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The following is an excerpt from the book The No Sweat Exercise Plan
by Harvey B. Simon, M.D.
Published by McGraw-Hill; January 2006;$21.95US/$29.95CAN; 0-07-144832-2
Copyright © 2006 Harvey B. Simon, M.D.

Walk for Walking
Whether you walk in a business suit or sweat suit, on city streets or country roads, it’s still the same left, right, left for health. In fact, it’s not a question of either-or, since every walk you take is a step toward good health. Still, I encourage you to set aside some time to walk for health and pleasure.

Walking for walking’s sake shows you are giving exercise the priority it deserves. It will get you away from the demanding routines of daily life, a nice plus for mental health. And by changing into walking shoes and athletic togs, you’ll be able to work up to a pace that’s difficult to achieve on the way to work.

Good shoes are important. Most major athletic brands offer shoes especially designed for walking. Fit and comfort are more important than style; your shoes should feel supportive but not snug or constricting. Look for a padded tongue and heel counter. The uppers should be light, breathable, and flexible; the insole, moisture resistant; and the sole, shock absorbent. The heel wedge should be raised so the sole at the back of the shoe is two times thicker than at the front. Finally, the toe box should be roomy, even when you’re wearing athletic socks.

Your goals are worth a little thought, but your clothing is strictly a matter of common sense and personal preference. A T-shirt and shorts are fine in warm weather. An ordinary sweat suit will do nicely when it’s cool, but a nylon athletic suit may be more comfortable. Add layers as the temperature drops; gloves and a hat are particularly important. If you really get into it, a water-repellant suit of Gore-Tex or a similar synthetic fabric will keep you warm without getting soggy with sweat.

For safety’s sake, pick brightly colored outer garments, and always wear a reflector on country roads if it’s dark. Walk facing cars if you don’t have a sidewalk underfoot, and avoid high-speed and congested traffic. Beware of dogs and, for that matter, people; in particular, women who plan to walk in unfamiliar locales or remote areas should check with authorities first and should try to walk with a companion.

Stretch to warm up before you walk and again to cool down afterward. Start out at a slow pace, and slow down toward the end of your walk as well. Begin with routes that are well within your range, and then extend your distances as you improve. The same is true of your pace; begin modestly, and then pick up your speed as you get into shape. Intersperse a brisk clip with a less strenuous stride, and then gradually extend these speedier intervals. Add a few hills for variety and for additional intensity.

One of the nice things about walking is that you don’t need special skill, much less lessons. Still, a few tips may help you get the hang of it. Try to keep your posture erect with your chin up, your eyes forward, and your shoulders square. Keep your back straight, belly flat, and buttocks tucked in. Keep your arms close to your torso, bent at the elbow. Take a natural stride, but try to lengthen your stride as you improve. Land on your heels, and then roll forward to push off with your toes. Swing your arms with each stride, and keep up a steady rhythmic cadence.

To stay motivated, walk with a friend or listen to a radio or tape. For some people, the best motivation is a dog. Studies show that owning pets is good for health, and walking the dog is a major reason for this benefit.

To avoid problems, back off if you are ill or injured, always listen to your body, stay well hydrated, and avoid hazardous conditions. Consider walking in a mall if it’s too hot, cold, wet, or slippery outdoors. You can also consider using a treadmill at home or at a health club.

Copyright © 2006 Harvey B. Simon, M.D.