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For a healthier, happier lifestyle, try walking - the most popular form of exercise. It's easy, safe and inexpensive. It's also relaxing and at the same time invigorating, requires little athletic skill, and does not call for club membership or special equipment other than sturdy, comfortable shoes.

Race walking is a very specific technique that's used by walkers for both fitness and competition. It has greater aerobic benefits than health walking, since it is faster and increases the heartbeat rate. If you get to the point where you think race walking is for you, there are clubs that can be contacted in most cities.

The results of walking are physically rewarding - a trim, fit body better able to enhance general health and add enjoyable years to your life. But to truly enjoy walking, your feet need to be healthy and free of pain.

WALKING FOOTWEAR: COMFORT AND FIT

Choose a good quality, lightweight walking shoe with breathable upper materials, such as leather or nylon mesh. The heel counter should be very firm; the heel should have reduced cushioning to position the heel closer to the ground for walking stability. The front or forefoot area of the shoe should have adequate support and flexibility.

Fit is very important. Go to a reputable store and have both shoes fitted for length and width with the socks you'll be using. Shop late in the afternoon, since your feet do swell enough during the day to affect your shoe size.
Here's what to watch for when fitting your shoes:

  • Make sure the shoe is snug, but not too tight over the sock.
  • The shoe should have plenty of room for the toes to move around.
  • Check on the shoe width; it must comfortably accommodate the width of the ball of your foot.
  • Make sure you get good arch support.
  • See that the top of the heel counter of the shoe is properly cushioned and does not bite into the heel or touch the ankle bones.

Your choice of athletic socks is also important. It is  recommend appropriately padded socks of acrylic fibre. Your feet have 250,000 sweat glands and can produce four to six ounces of perspiration a day or even more. Acrylic fibres tend to "wick" away excessive perspiration.

DO YOU NEED A CHECK-UP?

If you are free of serious health problems, you can start walking with confidence. Walking is not strenuous; it involves almost no risk to health. You should, of course, exercise good judgment, not exceed the limits of your condition and not walk outdoors during extreme weather periods until you have a good walking program established.

You should, however, consult your family or Foot Health Practitioner before you begin a walking regimen. A check-up is suggested, particularly if you are over 60 years old, have a disease or disability or are taking medication. It is also recommended for those who are 35 to 60, substantially overweight, easily fatigued, excessive smokers or have been physically inactive.

One of your physicians will help you determine your proper walking heart rate. Heart rate is widely accepted as a good method for measuring intensity during walking and other physical activities. The formula says that subtracting your age from the number 220 yields your maximum heart rate (beats per minute), and that the proper walking rate is 60 to 70 per cent of that number. For a 50-year-old, that's 220 minus 50 equals 170; 60 per cent of that is 102 and 70 per cent is 119. Other factors should be considered, though; a physician's advice is the best indicator of your correct rate.

You are now ready to begin a walking program. It is a prescription for a healthier, happier life.

WALKING: THERE'S AN ART TO IT

Before you start walking, some simple warm-up exercises - but not strenuous, advanced stretching - can give your muscles added flexibility. Body twists at the waist, in a slow hula-hoop motion, and a few toe-touching or knee-bend exercises are appropriate. When you're ready to begin, the best way to start is walking 20 uninterrupted minutes at least three times a week. Walk at a comfortable pace, slowing down if you find yourself breathing heavily. Don't tire yourself. If 20 minutes is too much, cut back to 10 or 15 minutes. You can gradually increase your time and pace as your body adapts to the exercise.

There are several ways to measure your pace. One is to walk on routes that you have pre-measured with your car's odometer. Perhaps the simplest is to use a wristwatch. Count the number of steps you take in a 15-second period; if you're taking 15 in that time, you're walking about two miles an hour. At about 23, you're probably going three miles an hour, and at 30, the pace is close to four miles an hour.

You may want to keep an activity log, in which you jot down the dates, times, and estimated distances of your walks, plus other notes, such as routes, milestones and incidental experiences.

SOME WALKING TIPS:

  • Move at a steady pace, brisk enough to make your heart beat faster. Breathe more deeply.
  • Walk with your head erect, back straight and abdomen flat. Keep your legs out front and your knees slightly bent.
  • Swing your arms freely at your sides.
  • As you walk, land on the heel of your foot and roll forward to push off on the ball of your foot.
  • At least at the beginning, confine your walks to level stretches of flat surfaces, avoiding excessively steep hills and embanked roadways.
  • If you're walking in the evening, be sure to wear clothing with reflective material sewn in, or otherwise attached.
  • Cool down after a long, brisk walk to help pump blood back up from your legs to where it's needed. Here's where some stretching exercises can be helpful. A good one is standing about three feet from a wall, with your hands flat on the wall. Then take five or six small steps backward, maintaining your hand contact with the wall. Repeat the exercise five to 10 times.

THE BENEFITS OF WALKING

For those with a long history of inactivity, problems with obesity, or who just don't like strenuous activity, walking is an excellent way to begin an exercise program. You can start slowly, then increase your speed and maintain a steady pace. A good conditioning program begins with moderation and dedication.
Foot Health Practitioner and family physicians recommend walking to ease or ward off a number of physically related ills. Walking can help you:

  • Strengthen your heart and lungs, and improve circulation.
  • Prevent heart attacks and strokes.
  • Reduce obesity and high blood pressure.
  • Boost your metabolic rate.
  • Favourably alter your cholesterol.
  • Improve muscle tone in your legs and abdomen.
  • Reduce stress and tension.
  • Reduce arthritis pain; stop bone tissue decay.

However, you may experience some problems with your feet.

INJURIES AND TREATMENT

Every day, podiatrists hear of people who have been "putting up with" foot pain, thinking it is normal. Your feet should not hurt and walking should not be painful.
Here some of the most common complaints of foot pain and their causes. Foot pain that is persistent indicates a need to seek treatment from a Foot health Practitioner.

Blisters - Friction in footwear often causes blisters. Do not pop a small blister, but if it breaks on its own, apply an antiseptic and cover with a sterile bandage.

Bone problems - Bunions, bony prominences at the joints on the inside or outside of the foot, often become irritated by narrow shoes. Pain at these joints may indicate a need for a wider or better-fitting shoe. Other pre-existing conditions, such as hammertoes and Haglund'sDeformity (a bump on the back of the heel) can be irritated by an active walking regimen. If pain persists, consult a Foot Health Practitioner.

Corns and calluses - Such friction injuries are readily self-treatable, yet care should be taken to ensure that self-treatment does not aggravate the problem. When treating corns and calluses, do not try to trim with sharp objects. Instead, buff problem areas with a pumice stone after bathing.

Neuromas - Enlarged benign growths of nerves between the toes, called neuromas, are caused by friction in tight footwear and can result in pain, burning, tingling, or numbness. Neuromas require professional treatment, including an evaluation of shoes.

Plantar fasciitis - Stress on the bottom of the foot sometimes causes arch pain. The plantar fascia, a supportive, fibrous band of tissue running the length of the foot, becomes inflamed and painful. If arch pain persists, consider investing in better shoes, an over-the-counter support.

Shin splints - Pain to either side of the leg bone, caused by muscle or tendon inflammation. This may be related to a muscle imbalance between opposing muscle groups in the leg. It is commonly related to excessive foot pronation (collapsing arch). Proper stretching and corrective orthoses for pronation can help prevent shin splints.

Sprains and strains - Walking on uneven terrain can result in sprains and strains of the foot and ankle. They can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). If pain persists, seek medical attention.

 

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