Get out of your chair and move: It’s the single best thing you can do for your health. You don’t even have to spend hours in a stuffy gym to reap the benefits — a brisk walk outside is one of the best exercises you can choose, especially if you do it right.
Like many of us, I’ve been determined to step up my movement by walking more too. I was recently at Miraval Resort in Tucson, Arizona, where some of the smartest brains when it comes to walking, running and foot health were gathered, including Australian podiatrist and Vionic founder Phil Vasyli and health guru Andrew Weil and Brian R. Hoke, a doctor of physical therapy from Virginia Beach. Here’s the advice they offered on starting a walking program.
1. Adopt a good posture.
A few tips from Dr. Weil: Walk with your head erect, your back straight, your shoulders level and square, and your buttocks tucked in. Bend your arms, flexing your elbows at a 90-degree angle and letting your arms swing at waist level.
2. Keep the walk challenging.
Don’t mistake a walking workout with a stroll in the mall. A good pace is 3 miles in 45 minutes. If that becomes too easy, add some uphill walking into your regimen or carry hand weights. (Skip the ankle weights — they can lead to injury.)
3. Shorten your stride.
If you’re a runner, chances are your stride is too wide. Science shows that the most efficient cadence is 180 steps per minute. Most people, says Vasyli, maintain a pace closer to 150, which slows your momentum and forces your heel to hit the pavement with too much force. An app like JogTunes lets you put together playlists with a specific beats per minute (more fun than running with a metronome). Be warned: Shortening your stride takes getting used to. “At first you’ll feel like a bicycle going downhill and trying to catch up with the pedals,” says Vasyli.
4. Invest in the right shoe.
You spend a fortune on your heels; don’t skimp on your running or walking shoes. Look for a lightweight shoe that has flexible soles and supports your arch. If you still experience pain in your knees, shins, heels or ball of foot, over-the-counter orthotic insoles can help.
5. Keep going!
A no-pain-no-gain philosophy is a shortcut to injury that will have you on the sidelines for weeks. But that’s no excuse to wimp out. “If you feel pain that makes you wince and takes your breath away, stop,” says Hoke. “But discomfort is part of exercise.” If you’re experiencing minor aches and fatigue when you’re running, walking or lifting weights, keep going.
Shelley Levitt, managing editor of The Style Glossy, is a former West Coast editor of Self and senior writer at People.