Walking for Good Health

Updated at: Jan 17, 2013
Walking for Good Health

Walking is one of the most effective and cost-free way of maintaining your health. Give yourself the gift of health by walking but with precautions against injuries and proper diet to supplement your body.

Yashmeen Manak
Sports and FitnessWritten by: Yashmeen ManakPublished at: Jan 17, 2013

The easiest way to good health is walking. It is absolutely free of cost, easily accessible and safest mode of exercise for all age groups. You may walk alone or with a friend. You can also walk with family or may join a walking group and meet new people. You can even walk your dog! 

To reap health and fitness benefits, brisk walking is the most appropriate way of walking. It can be described as a pace when you feel warmer, your heart beats faster than normal but is not racing and your breathing becomes deeper than normal but still you are able to carry on a conversation. In case you are gasping for breath, you are overdoing it. You need to slow down.

If you are an absolute beginner who has never ever exercised or you are a de-conditioned individual or you are starting after a long gap then start your walking program gently. Starting with a stroll and then gradually building up to walking faster is the right way. Always increase the distance prior to increasing the speed. The intensity of the brisk walk is absolutely personal. It depends upon gender, age and fitness level. In case you are suffering from any ailment, it is important to consult your doctor about what type and how much exercise you should be doing.

Physical and psychological health benefits of brisk walking can be achieved by performing the activity for 30 minutes for at least 5 days and preferably all days of the week.


The benefits of walking are same as running and in nut shell can be described as below

  • Reduces risk of cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal diseases and certain cancers (Breast cancer).
  • Controls putting on excess fat and maintains a healthy body weight.
  • Reduces stress, improves mood, elevates confidence and fights depression.
  • Keeps you energetic throughout the day, improves your stamina and helps you sleep better.
  • Walking in a group or with friends is a lot of fun and relieves you from the day’s stress and monotony.
  • Walking is a low impact activity and a safe form of exercise for the elderly.

However, before you start a walking routine you should bear in mind certain cautions

  • Do not walk outdoors in a hot and humid environment as the weather will deplete you off your energy and efficiency. Walking in hot weather is also dangerous as it leads to dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat strokes. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke which can be fatal. The best time for walking is early mornings and late evenings.
  • Also, do not walk outdoors if the weather is too cold as it may lead to hypothermia or frostbite.
  • Hydration is very important before, during and after walking. You lose a lot of water and important body salts in the form of sweat and hence it is very important to replenish them. Keep sipping water every 15 to 20 minutes during walking, however if you plan to walk for more than an hour, you may carry some sports drink as well. Consume 400 to 500 ml of water at least an hour before exercise to allow for excretion before exercise. Consume 450 to 600 ml of water after exercise to replace the lost water weight. Individuals will vary in terms of how much water drinking they are comfortable with.
  • Walking is best done in a park and indoors on a treadmill. When walking on a treadmill, start slowly and walk for 5 minutes before increasing your pace and make sure to end up by walking slowly again followed by static stretches. This reduces the risk of injury and helps in recovering fast from the exercise.
  • Maintain correct posture with your head up, shoulders back, torso upright with the abdominals held in and arms swinging at your sides with the elbows bent at an angle of 90 degrees.
  • Never attempt to walk briskly when you are injured or when you have a flu or fever.
  • Do not use cell phones and i-pods while walking. This is very risky when especially you are brisk walking on the road. Preoccupied walkers listening to music or talking on the cell phone lack situational awareness and may end up with a mishap. Moreover talking on the cell phone while walking distracts you and the efficiency of your workout suffers.
  • It is very important to dress up appropriately for any activity. Wear a pair of walking shoes and comfortable clothes for your walk. Do not wear synthetic materials.
  • Always carry your identifications with yourself and let someone be aware of where do you plan to walk. Do not walk alone in the dark and if a person or location makes you uncomfortable change your route.

Diet for walking

Your walking activity should also be complimented with a balanced and nutritious eating plan. Food gives us energy which is used as fuel when we run. The quality of your exercise will depend upon your diet plan. Hence, a balance of the right amount of carbohydrates (60%), proteins (15%), fats (25%), vitamins and minerals should be derived from a variety of healthful food items. You should ideally eat small portion meals 5-6 times a day with a gap of 2-3 hours in between each meal. This will keep you high in energy throughout the day.

Excellent sources of carbohydrates are

  • Whole grains.
  • Whole grain cereals and breads.
  • Fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables (Green & Yellow)
  • Brown rice.
  • Whole wheat pasta.

Excellent sources of proteins are

  • Low fat dairy products such as milk, cottage cheese, curd, buttermilk.
  • Soymilk and Tofu (Soy paneer).
  • Eggs.
  • Fish (Tuna, Salmon), Lean Meats and chicken.
  • Nuts (Almonds & Walnuts) in moderation
  • Beans.

Excellent sources of Good fats (Omega 3 fatty acids – essential fatty acids required by the body) are

  • Fish / fish oil.
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil.
  • Flaxseed / flaxseed oil.

All these food items will give you all the required vitamins and minerals. However, there are certain food rules to follow before a walk. Avoid foods such as milk, cheese and ice cream just before a walk as they contain lactose, a milk sugar, which many people are unable to digest easily. This may create discomfort while walking and can lead to stomach cramps. Avoid beans and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage as they have the tendency to produce gas which will again be uncomfortable for the activity. Do not eat hard to digest proteins and fats just before walking as they may take longer to get absorbed into your system and interrupt into your walking. Most of the blood supply will shift to the gastrointestinal tract for digestion rather than to the working muscles supporting walking.


Watch your meal timings. There should be a gap of three hours between a big meal and physical activity. Eat dinner two hours before going to bed always in case you plan to walk early morning and very important, always try to clear your system before a walk or any physical activity. What can be eaten before the activity is entirely a process of experimentation for you. Walking or any exercise is fueled primarily by carbohydrates. If you plan to go for a long walk (more than an hour) you will have to device a small snack or any sports drink for yourself depending upon what suits your stomach best.

As for how many calories a person should consume depends upon the goal, activity level and lifestyle of an individual. In general, women should consume in between 1,200 to 1,500 kcal a day and men should consume 1,800 to 2,000 kcal a day.

Basic toolkit for Walking

  • Walking shoes and socks.
  • A waist-pack water bottle or sports drink.
  • Hand towel.
  • Loose fitted and comfortable clothing that allows the skin to breathe.
  • Women must wear a sports bra.
  • Band-aids.

Walking injuries & Injury Management

Being a low impact activity, walking results in far fewer injuries than activities such as running but even then certain injuries can happen. First of all, always try to prevent injuries by:

  • Wearing proper footwear (walking shoes).
  • Warming up and stretching.
  • Maintaining correct posture and form.
  • Enough sleep and right nutrition.

Still injuries may happen and you can always first-aid them.

Common Walking Injuries

1.    Shin Splints

Pain at the front of the lower leg (below the knee to the ankle) can be one of the common walking injuries. The bone of the lower leg (shin bone) gets inflamed due to traction forces.

Signs & Symptoms of Shin Splints

  • Pain over the inside of the shin.
  • Initial pain at the beginning of exercise and then it eases as the exercise proceeds.
  • If the post exercises pain worsens the next morning.
  • Swelling (occasional).
  • Pain on bending the toe or foot downwards.

Self treatment

  • Rest to allow healing.
  • Ice packs.
  • Stretching the muscles of the lower leg.
  • Reduce shock on the lower leg by wearing shock absorbing insoles in shoes.
  • Consult a sports injury specialist.

Self prevention and treatment:

  • Rest and avoid the sport for a while.
  • Apply ice pack to reduce inflammation.
  • Stretch the IT band after running.
  • Consult a sports injury specialist.

2.    Plantar Fascitis

Plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue that runs from the heel bone to the ball of the foot.

Signs & Symptoms

  • When strained small tears develop, it stiffens and may also lead to inflammation.
  • In this condition you feel pain in the heel or arch of the foot, in the morning as this tissue stiffens during the night.

Self treatment

  • Rest.
  • Stretch the foot by rolling it on a golf ball or a full water bottle.
  • Wear supportive shoes or sandals.
  • Ice pack.
  • Consult a sports injury specialist.

3.    Achilles Tendonitis

The Achilles tendon is a large tendon (a connective tissue which connects muscle to the bone) at the back of ankle which connects the calf muscle to the heel bone and provides power during the push off phase of the walking cycle.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Pain at the initiation of exercise and then fades as the exercise proceeds.
  • Tenderness on palpation.
  • Relief with rest.
  • Pain in tendon while walking, especially uphill and upstairs.
  • If not treated may become a chronic injury which is difficult to treat.

Self treatment

  • Rest and ice packs.
  • Consult a sports injury specialist.

4.    Blisters

Blisters are a common problem while starting a walking program. Ill-fitting shoes or too much moisture next to your skin may lead to blisters. Thus, wear shoes that fit well and are meant for walking. Always wear socks that soak up sweat.

Self Treatment

Blisters when left unattended can become a chronic problem. Take the following steps to control and cure

  • Stop walking.
  • Protect it with a band-aid. Do not try to pop it and let it heal completely.
  • If self treatment does not help, consult a physician.

5.    Ankle Sprains

Sprains may occur when you abruptly twist or turn your ankle while walking. Always watch where you step.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Sprains are painful and accompanied with tenderness and swelling.

Self Treatment

  • Rest and elevate your foot above the level of your heart.
  • Use ice packs.
  • Use a compression bandage.
  • Visit a sports injury specialist.


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