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10 Critical Walking Tips: Begin Walking Safely for Heart, Health, Life

Walking is one of best exercises people can do to improve health, wellness. Read these 10 critical walking tips before you start a walking program.

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

Most experts agree that walking is one of the best exercises for people to undertake who want to improve their health, lose weight, and live a better life. Walking is a low-impact exercise that has high-impact results. For more information, read our article, The 100-Mile a Month Walking Challenge: Take the First Step to a Healthy Life.

Ready to get started walking your way to a healthier life? Use these 10 critical walking tips to get you on the way to a walking program that is safe for you -- and that will keep you safe -- while you begin to get in shape, lose weight, and improve your overall health.

1. Use a good pair of walking/athletic shoes. The most important thing you'll need is a good pair of well-fitting, comfortable athletic shoes that offer support when walking. The shoes do not need to be fancy or name-brand, but they need to work for you. Some experts recommend having two pairs of walking shoes, so that you can alternate them, giving the shoes a chance to recover between uses. Ideally, only wear your walking shoes for walking -- use other footwear for other situations.

2. Start small, but plan big. Unless you are already in excellent shape, it's best to begin a walking regimen slowly, working your way up to your daily walking goal. Begin your walking program by walking only 10 minutes the first week. As each new week arrives, add another 10 minutes. Keep adding those 10 minutes until you reach your goal. Walking at a decent pace, people can generally walk about 1,000 steps in 10 minutes. Thus, if your goal is the elusive 10,000 steps per day, it will take you 10 weeks to build up to the 100 minutes you'll need to reach that milestonel.

3. Get in habit of warming up -- and then walking properly. It's a good idea to start your walks slowly, allowing time for your muscles to warm up before you begin picking up the speed and effort to reach a brisk walking pace. Some experts also recommend stretching exercises for your ankles and shins. In terms of walking, stand tall and keep your head up and shoulders relaxed, walking so that the heel of your foot touches the ground first and then pushing off with your toes with the next stride, and swinging your arms gently as you walk.

4. Carry water with you when walking. For short walks, you can get away with hydrating before you head out for your walk, but on longer walks you should carry a bottle of water so that you can stay hydrated as you walk. It's especially important during the summer months to drink plenty of water, as studies show most of us do not drink as much water as we should -- whether exercising or not.

5. Walk facing traffic on streets with no sidewalks. The ideal walking situation is one in which you can walk on sidewalks or safely on a walking trail. In those cases in which you must walk along the street, remember the rule is always to face oncoming traffic so that if you need to do, you can jump out of the way of a crazy driver who is heading in your direction. On sidewalks and trails, do stay alert for bicyclists who may come dangerously close to you as they pass.

6. Wear reflective gear and/or light-colored clothing when walking in the dark. If you decide to walk early in the morning or late at night, one of the most important things you can do is wear reflective clothing -- and even carry a light -- so that drivers can see you and avoid you. At the very least, wear white or yellow clothing rather than dark blues or blacks.

7. Dress in layers of clothing. In colder temperatures, the best solution for walking is to wear several layers of light clothing, so that as you warm up, you can slowly peel the layers off -- while still staying warm and protected from the elements.

8. Always carry identification and your cell phone. Even in the safest of neighborhoods or parks, you should be prepared for emergencies by carrying identification and a cell phone (if you have one). Never leave your home without these two items when walking.

9. Apply sunscreen when walking during the day. Walking is a wonderfully healthy and safe activity -- and you get the added plus of your daily dose of Vitamin D from walking in the sunshine -- but if you're walking during daylight hours (and especially during peak sun hours from around 10 am to 4 pm), you need to protect yourself with sunscreen.

10. Vary your walking routes, routines. Walking the same route everyday lends a sense of comfort to those who like routines, but to many others, it can lead to boredom and an excuse not to walk. Find new places and trails to walk. Switch directions. Walk with a partner or two. Consider interval-walking.

Final Thoughts on Walking to Improve Your Health

Use these 10 tips to better prepare yourself for a walking workout routine. Doing so will help you feel even better as you walk your way to better health and wellness.

Are you walking enough? According to an article from Sports Medicine magazine, you need to walk at least 10,000 steps a day for an active lifestyle -- and more than 12,500 steps for a highly active lifestyle. Anything under 5,000 steps is considered a sedentary lifestyle (which can lead to hypokinetic diseases), while walking 5,000-10,000 steps a day is considered low to somewhat active.

Need a log to keep track of your daily and weekly walking progress? Track your time and steps in My Walking Log.

Walking Websites

While there are plenty of sites out there, here are just a few of the best to help get you started -- or keep you motivated:
  • America's Walking
  • MyWALKS.com
  • Prevention.com: Walking to Lose Weight and Get Healthy
  • Shape up America's 10,000 Steps
  • Walking.org
  • The Walking Site
  • Walking10000.org
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    Avid wellness guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., is an avid bicyclist, adventurist, environmentalist, and student of wellness and photography, with a mission of empowering others to lead great lives. He is Founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites. Dr. Hansen is also the founder and caretaker of this site, EmpoweringRetreat.com, as well as founder of EmpoweringAdvice.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com or reach him by email at CEO(at)empoweringsites.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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