Walking is just a step away

Last updated 14:43 07/03/2013

ONE FOOT AT A TIME: Moderate exercise, such as walking for 30 minutes, five days a week, reduces the risk of death by 19%.

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Our first steps as children are more momentous than even our doting parents realise. Those early moves are an initial foray into long-lasting good health. Yet many of us take our in-built fitness equipment for granted.

"Walking at a moderate or even mild pace for at least 30 minutes every day, and possibly increasing to one hour a day, is sufficient to gain the health benefits of exercise," says Professor Steve Selig, chair in clinical exercise science at Deakin University.

Daily walking offers cardiovascular benefits and reduces the risk of diabetes, cancers and depression. "You don't even have to speed walk,'' he says. ''You can keep up a conversation with a friend and still achieve health benefits."

It's ideal for posture and bone health, too. "Walking promotes a healthy skeletal system, improves balance, and helps to create a strong and stable back," osteopath Danny Williams says.

Don't have the time for a morning or evening stroll? That's no excuse for missing out on a daily constitutional. "It doesn't have to be 30 minutes of walking all at once," Selig says. "If you can get bouts of exercise, such as five or 10 minutes of walking, three or four times a day, you'll still feel the results."

Sure, you may have been walking for decades, but are you doing it right? Sports podiatrist Paul Dowie, says many people suffer from heel, knee, hip, arch and shin pain when they increase an activity, such as regular walking.

Correct footwear is a must. "Shop for footwear at the end of the day when [feet] are more swollen," he says. "Shoes should be immediately comfortable - don't buy shoes that need a 'breaking in' period."

When walking, make sure you land on your heel first, then move on to your toes. "Try not to bounce, although a slight movement of your hips, side to side, can help you burn more kilojoules and walk faster," Amelia Burton, a health and nutrition coach, says.

"Our feet were made to walk," Dowie says. "Regular walking improves the overall condition of muscle, joints and soft tissues. It increases bone and muscle strength, and reduces swelling of the legs and ankles."

Weight loss can be achieved through walking only if you "step it up a notch and power walk'', Burton says. She advises adding mini-intervals to your workout. Try walking up and down stairs or hills, or break into a jog at points along the way.

When you walk may also translate into weight loss.

"Walking first thing in the morning on an empty stomach has been shown to assist in weight loss," she says. "But don't fall into the trap of thinking you can eat what you want because you've exercised. You can never out-exercise a poor diet."

1. Our feet are designed for walking, says Paul Dowie, podiatrist at Foot+Leg Pain Clinics.
2. The 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments in the foot are gently exercised by walking.
3. Walking can burn as many kilojoules as jogging.
4. It releases endorphins, known as happy hormones.
5. It strengthens the heart and lungs.

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- Sydney Morning Herald


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