Walking for Health

Your Health Matters

As summer starts to wrap up and the temperatures go back to a more comfortable range with less humidity, it’s a good time to get off of the couch. Walking, says Ryan F. Gabriel, D.O., of the Meritus Family Medicine Residency Program, is one of the most sustainable, efficient, readily accessible and budget-friendly forms of exercise. Best of all, walking lends itself to people of all ages and fitness levels including those with health conditions.

According to Dr. Gabriel, sticking with an exercise routine is the key to longevity and improved health.

“Walking doesn’t require practice,” says Dr. Gabriel. “You’ve been doing it since you were a small child!”

Did you know that walking:

  • Makes your heart pump more efficiently and improves circulation
  • Keeps your cholesterol and blood pressure in check
  • Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes or helps you manage the condition
  • Strengthens your bones and tones your leg muscles
  • Increases the calories you burn and helps you lose weight and keep it off
  • Improves your mood and helps you relax and sleep better
  • Gives you energy and increases stamina
  • Clears your head and provides time to process things

The Basics

Before starting a walking routine, check with your doctor, especially if you’re 60 or older or have heart, respiratory or balance problems. Dr. Gabriel also recommends buying walking shoes with good cushioning to soften your weight against the ground.

“Since you’ll warm up fast, dress like it’s ten degrees warmer outside,” says Dr. Gabriel. “Wear light-color clothing so you are more visible to cars and to help keep the sun at bay.”

Walk the Walk

If you’re new to exercise or if you’ve been inactive, start by walking for short amounts of time and slowly increase your distance each week. This approach allows your muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments to follow a natural progression to longer workouts with far less risk of injury. Gentle stretching before and after your walk is also important.

Consider these tips for an effective walk:

  • Find a safe, well-paved area to walk. Bring a friend for company, motivation and safety.
  • Focus on keeping your spine straight, chin up and shoulders back (but relaxed).
  • Land on your heel and roll your weight toward your toe.
  • Swing your arms gracefully in time with your legs.
  • Keep at a “talking pace,” meaning you can easily sing to yourself or talk to your partner.
  • Listen to your body and never work through joint pain, chest pain or shortness of breath. Pain is an indicator that something may be wrong. If you are feeling light-headed, stop exercising.
  • Increase the intensity by walking faster, longer and uphill or combine fast and slow intervals.

Sources of motivation

Fall is a great season to treat yourself and/or family to a nature hike. The Kids in Parks program of the National Park Service, with support from Meritus Health, celebrated the first National TRACK Trails Day this past weekend all across the country. Dr. Gabriel participated in a walk with families at Catoctin Mountain Park in nearby Thurmont, and encouraged parents and their children to get outside for the exercise and fresh air as often as possible.

“Try to think of walking as an opportunity rather than a chore,” says Dr. Gabriel. “Just grab your sneakers and get moving!”

Ready to get walking? 

Join us for Walking for Wellness Wednesdays

Meritus Family Medicine Residency Program and Prime Time for Women have created a walking program. Designed for individuals ages 40 and over, the walking program takes place on the first Wednesday of each month at 12:15 p.m., at Robinwood Professional Center Atrium.

During the first 15 minutes of the walking program, a physician from Meritus Family Medicine Residency Program discusses a health topic while participants stretch and warm up. Next, the physician leads the walking group on a 30-minute, moderately paced walk through Robinwood Professional Center.