Talking About Walking During COVID-19
Many of us have felt cooped up during the past few months, spending most of our time indoors as we’ve been practicing social distancing. But we need to get out into the fresh air and sunshine for our physical and emotional health.
Is it safe to go for a walk today? It is! Public health experts say it’s just fine to walk outdoors, so long as we maintain a safe distance from others and wear a mask when advised.
For years, doctors have emphasized that walking is a perfect type of exercise for older adults. A good exercise program includes aerobic, muscle strengthening and balance activities. Walking is a great way to get all three, and here are some studies to help us make our walking workout even better:
Pick up the pace, and add some extra steps. Researchers from Tufts University studied over 4,000 older adults over the course of a decade, and found that while every little bit helps when it comes to exercise, the seniors in the study who pushed themselves to walk a little more and a little faster enjoyed better health. Those who walked at least 3 MPH and the equivalent of seven blocks per day lowered their risk of heart disease and stroke. “These results are especially relevant because, with advancing age, the ability to perform vigorous types of activity often decreases,” said study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian. “Our findings support the importance of continuing light to moderate exercise to improve health across the lifespan.”
On the other hand, no need to overdo it. A study from Duke University School of Medicine found that for preventing prediabetes from progressing to full-blown diabetes, moderate-intensity exercise such as walking might be superior to a higher-intensity workout, such as jogging. This is something to discuss with your doctor, of course, but study author Dr. William Kraus observed, “High-intensity exercise tends to burn glucose more than fat, while moderate-intensity exercise tends to burn fat more than glucose. We believe that one benefit of moderate-intensity exercise is that it burns off fat in the muscles, which relieves the block of glucose uptake by the muscles. That’s important because muscle is the major place to store glucose after a meal.”
And perk up your style! Here’s another interesting study, this one from Queen’s University, Ontario. A team led by psychologists found that people who are feeling unhappy and depressed tend to walk a certain way, with less arm movement and shoulders rolled forward. A group of volunteers was instructed to instead adopt a walking style that was more animated—head up, shoulders back and “bouncing along,” the researchers described it. “It is not surprising that our mood, the way we feel, affects how we walk, but we wanted to see whether the way we move also affects how we feel,” said study author Dr. Nickolaus Troje. The results? The study subjects who changed their walking style reported improved mood.
Focus on walking safety
Ready to lace up your walking shoes? The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) offers some tips for a safe, healthy walking program. Speaking of shoes, let’s start there! The AAOS advises, “Choose shoes that support the arch and elevate the heel slightly. There should be stiff material surrounding the heel that keeps your heel from turning in or out or wobbling. The toe box should be roomy but not too long.”
Here are more tips from the AAOS:
- Warm up by walking as you normally would for five minutes, then pick up the pace to whatever speed gets your heart beating faster and your lungs breathing deeper. Keep up the faster pace for about 15 minutes. After two weeks, add five minutes to the strenuous part of your walk. Keep adding five minutes every two weeks as you gradually build strength and endurance.
- While you walk, swing your arms. Keep your head up, back straight, and abdomen flat. Point your toes straight ahead. Take long strides, but do not strain
- Cool down by walking at your warm-up speed again for five more minutes. Do gentle stretching exercises after your walk.
- Another way to build fitness with a walking program is to use one to five pound weights. Using weights in each hand gives your upper body a better workout.
- To increase lower body stability while walking, consider using walking sticks or poles. They also help to reduce the impact on your legs, knees, ankles, and feet.
- Don’t forget to hydrate. Keep a water bottle handy. Drink one pint of water 15 minutes before you start walking, and another pint after you cool down. Have a drink of water every 20 minutes or as needed while you exercise.