Walking Into 2021

by Paula Allia PT, DHSc, MTC, OCS

The new year brings both exercise enthusiasts and the more sedentary to a common place. Both want to be in better shape for 2021! The advantage of the enthusiast is that they are usually in a better starting place to be exercising. The sedentary person has to emotionally make changes just to motivate themselves to make a change that can last and their body systems trail behind those already in shape.

Picking the right exercise is important but everybody should at least be walking.  What are the benefits of walking and who should participate?

Walking in general burns some calories. One can start with small goals in mind of distance and time and build rather quickly to a higher goal. Many people know that on a walking app, it is recommended to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. This number of steps averages to about 5 miles for most. If this is added into your daily routine you will burn more calories, boost immune function, increase your energy and actually have a positive impact on your psyche.

Physiologically, these are some of the things that walking can have a positive impact on:

  • Studies have shown that a daily routine of walking can decrease the risk of heart and stroke problems. A brisk walk can even get the heart rate elevated.
  • Bones get stimulated with this weight bearing activity, thus, walking is good for those with osteopenia which leads to osteoporosis if the bone does not remodel and strengthen. Bone needs stimulation so this weight bearing activity is needed to do just that.
  • There is fitness in walking which improves the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems.
  • Reduction in the risk of heart disease and stroke can occur.
  • There is a chance of decreasing cholesterol levels with walking.

Walking can also affect muscles, joints and ligaments throughout the body. There is a normal sequence that should occur when someone takes a step. The entire body plays a part in this sequence.

When the foot strikes the ground the first contact is the heel. Wearing appropriate shoes is important in your walking adventures. The correct shoe and arch support will help control the foot and propel the body forward while decreasing excessive loads in unwanted places in the body. For example, if a person is wearing sandals for a long walk, it is difficult to heel strike because the heel itself is not supported in the shoe. Thus, the gait changes which makes the other joints in the legs and even in the back have to compensate sometimes.

The hip, knee, ankle and foot work in a joint fashion. There are certain angles that are needed in joints in order to have a normal gait. If one has had an injury in a joint, restoring good joint mobility and muscle flexibility will allow proper timing and the propulsion through the gait sequence can occur without a hitch.

If limitations persist then altered gait sequence can over time cause undue strain. Also, the foot adapts to the ground so hard versus grass or bumpy surfaces will result in the leg adapting throughout the step and stride.

These are some adaptations that occur with joint problems:

  • If the knee does not straighten, the foot strikes more flat.
  • If the big toe does not bend back, the leg lifts off sooner and affects the whole gait cycle.
  • If there are hip weaknesses, there is an increased sway.
  • All of the above can cause disruption, joint pain, or even muscles strains.

Weaknesses in muscles will affect the ability of the joints to work together. If you start a walking program and you are concerned about issues that may arise, do not hesitate to be evaluated so that you can maximize your potential while minimizing stress and strain. This can contribute to your successful walking program. After all, the one thing you want to be able to do is to keep walking!!

Here’s to your health!

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