Walking for Exercise -- Suggestions for Proper Form
If an individual with chronic pain is physically capable, walking is often a good fitness choice. The great thing about walking is that it can be done almost anywhere — walking during a lunch break, walking around the mall, walking around a track, or simply parking a bit farther from the grocery store entrance to incorporate a little extra walking. While these may seem like small changes; over time, the benefits will accumulate.
Incorporating gentle stretches into a walking exercise regimen helps prepare muscles and joints for activity. Proper stretching maximizes the health benefits of walking while preventing injury and managing pain.
A short, gentle walk before stretching warms up the muscles. An individual should start by taking an easy five-minute walk to warm up the muscles so that they loosen a bit before stretching.
In order to learn proper stretching techniques, individuals may want to consult a physical therapist, trainer or health care provider. Beginning with a five-minute walk and gradually increasing the time to at least 30 minutes with a frequency of three or four times per week is recommended.
The lower leg muscles, upper leg muscles, neck, hips, arms and ankles should be included in a stretching routine. After stretching, several guidelines should be followed to maximize the benefits of walking.
With the proper form, the advantages of walking are maximized. Individuals should walk briskly; however, they should be able to easily engage in a conversation without losing their breath. Maintaining good posture when walking provides the maximum aerobic benefits. Good posture protects the back from injury. Tips for good form while walking include the following:
Each step should land gently on the heel and midfoot. The feet should then roll smoothly to the next step. The toes and balls of the feet should propel the body forward with each new step.
The forward motion of walking should primarily start from the hips. Each stride should be completely natural. It should not be too short or too long.
While walking, individuals should look straight ahead and relax the shoulders, maintain an upright posture and avoid slouching forward. The head should be upright and rest directly between the shoulders. The eyes should focus on the horizon.
The core muscles should be engaged and active to support the body and spine. Individuals should slightly pull in the stomach and stand upright.
The arms should be kept close to the body with the elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. The arms should swing comfortably front to back with each step at the same pace as the stride of the opposite leg. The hands should be relaxed and not clenched.
Walking strengthens the legs, hips, feet and torso and increases spinal stability. It develops the muscles in the core and back to maintain the body’s upright position. Walking stimulates circulation which transports nutrients to tissues and removes toxins. For people with chronic pain, walking increases balance and stability. This may improve the capability to perform daily activities and reduce the frequency and severity of chronic pain.