Walking for Fitness

While I realize walking isn’t the best form of exercise for all of us, it does work well for many with arthritis. It is less strenuous with many of the same benefits of other forms of exercise. It requires no special equipment, other than a good pair of shoes. It strengthens the heart and lungs, nourishes joints, builds bones, burn calories, reduces stress and it can be fun! What more can we ask for?

To begin your walking program, start with a visit to your doctor. Ask if there are any medical reasons you cannot walk daily for exercise. Chances are your doctor will be thrilled that you want to exercise.

Then make a promise to yourself. Most people who begin any type of exercise program drop out within 6 months, and I am sure that is much higher for those with arthritis. Set goals, but keep it realistic. Your first goal may be simply to walk around in the house for five minutes each day. For some of us this is a very difficult thing to do. When you have achieved that everyday for a week, move on to a larger goal, walking down the driveway to the mailbox each day. Then go on from there. The important thing is to keep the goals realistic. If you cannot reach your goals, you will not stick with the program.

If you do not have foot problems that require orthotics or special shoes, the following are qualities you should look for in a good walking shoe:
Lightweight. Breathable upper material (leather or mesh). Wide enough to accommodate ball of the foot. Firm padded heel counter that does not bite into heel or touch ankle boon. Low heel close to ground for stability. Good arch support. Front provides support and flexibility.

Warming up and cooling down are important parts of a good walking program. A warm up will prevent muscle injury and make everything a little less stiff and easier to move. Cooling down will help reduce fatigue and stiffness and allow your muscles to return to their normal shape and size.

Some walking tips:

Listen to your body when you walk. If you develop dizziness, unusual pain, nausea, or any other unusual symptom, slow down or stop. If the problem persists, see your physician before walking again.

The speed at which you walk is less important that the time you devote to it. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to begin realizing the “training effects” of sustained exercise.

Don’t do too much too soon. Start slowly! Build gradually.

Use the two-hour rule: If you have more pain two hours after walking than you did before you started you have overdone it.
Walk during the time of day that you usually have the least pain and stiffness.

If you are unsteady use a cane or walking stick.

Vary your path. Walking around the block is easy, but boring. Drive to the park for a change of scenery. Head to the mall and window shop while you walk.

Walk safely. Never walk alone after dark. Be familiar with the area in which you are walking. 

Walk with a friend if possible for fun and safety.

Use supports or braces if you and your doctor feel they would be beneficial.

Reward yourself when you reach each goal. 

Keep a diary, you may be surprised at how far you progress.

Most of all, enjoy! If you see it as a chore, you won’t stick to a program. If you see it as fun and recreational you’ll stick to it and look forward to it!

Walk With Ease, An Official Publication of the Arthritis Foundation