Walking for exercise is easy and convenient for most people, which makes excuses hard to come by. But if you haven’t exercised in years, you’ll want to underdo it at first. Ten minutes a day may be all you should do for the first week or so. Then, you can add about 10 percent more each week in distance, time, or speed.
For cardiovascular health, you’ll want to work up to a minimum of 30 minutes four times a week. Don’t get too hung up about how much you’re exercising or how well you’re doing it. Just do something. You don’t have to be gung ho to reap substantial benefits.
If the world outside seems full of mean dogs and high curbs, try doing a few laps around your local mall. Many malls open early in the morning just for this. It’s a safe, controlled, friendly environment, where chances are good you’ll meet other walkers. Plus, you get to see what’s on sale before everyone else does.
Treadmills are safe if you have good balance and know how to use one. But if you’re not as steady as you’d like to be, it’s better to walk on terra firma.
You can set a time aside specifically for walking exercise, or you can catch it in bits and pieces during the day by parking a few blocks away from your destination, strolling around the block, or walking to the store. If you need to carry things, consider using a small backpack, which is easier on your body than a shopping bag or a large purse. Or use a cart. In either case, maintain body balance by using both arms or by alternating between your left and right arms.
Get walking or running shoes that offer good support and cushioning. If you go to a running store that’s been around awhile, you’re most likely to find salespeople who can steer you in the right direction on selection and fit. Plan on replacing your shoes at least yearly.
When you walk, pay particular attention to heel-toe roll. Seniors tend to walk flat-footed and widen their stance, so they roll from side to side like a drunken sailor. Instead, imagine your foot as the bottom of a rocking chair, curved. Plant your foot at the heel, slightly on the outside of the heel, and roll down the footprint and off between the big toe and first toe. Until you get the feel of it, you may need to do this slowly a few times each time you start out. Keep your knees relaxed, not locked. Let your arms and legs swing like pendulums, and let their weight help propel you forward. Don’t pump your arms until you are warmed up and you really need them to add to your push-off.
After you’ve walked for about 10 minutes, stop and stretch your arms overhead, twist gently at the waist, and shake it out. Stretching rebalances your body and maximizes the rest of your walk. Walking works a lot better with stretching. You should also stretch after your walk.