Too big and they may be a tripping hazard. Too tight and they can alter your gait, which can lead to ankle, knee or even back pain. If you have osteoarthritis, choose stable, supportive shoes over flat, flexible styles. When researchers compared both types, those wearing the supportive shoes reported less joint pain, according to a 2021 study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Even if you have concerns about injury or stamina, you’re almost always better off walking than not, says David Sabgir, a cardiologist in Columbus, Ohio, who created the Walk With a Doc program to get his patients moving. Being sedentary doesn’t protect you from injuries. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, researchers compared injury rates of exercisers with an inactive control group over the course of a year. There was little difference. If you haven’t been active, start with 5 to 15 minutes of walking, two to three times a week, and gradually build up. You can also break up a walk into short strolls — for example, 10 minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening — and still get the same health benefits.
Go at an easy pace until muscles and joints feel loose. Five minutes should do it, but take as long as you need.
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4. Choose well-maintained routes
Uneven sidewalks or paths with rocks, roots and ruts are tripping hazards. Even if you don’t have balance issues, you’ll reduce your risk of injury by sticking to level, paved paths. And pay attention when you come to a curb. In a National Center for Injury Prevention and Control study, curbs contributed to more than 9,000 falls a year among older pedestrians.
Sabgir recommends them for anyone with balance issues. Poles provide stability and can take pressure off painful joints, so you’ll feel more confident and may walk longer and farther.
One of the most common changes that Lee Scott, a walking coach in Toronto, has seen in her older clients is that they start to bend at the waist and lean forward as they pick up their pace or get tired. “Core training improves posture, which improves walking gait and decreases the chance for tripping,” she says.
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Looking down can cause neck and back pain. Instead, keep your chin level with the ground and look about 10 to 20 feet in front of you. You’ll reduce upper body stress and be able to see any obstacles in your path.
Though listening to music or audiobooks is often touted as a way to stay motivated when you walk, it can divert your attention. Walkers distracted by music were less careful when crossing intersections, according to a 2021 study in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention.
No matter what time of the day you walk, make yourself visible. Wearing red, yellow, orange or hot pink enables motorists, cyclists and skateboarders to see you. If you must walk at dawn or dusk, add reflective gear and carry a flashlight.
Walking with others can be more enjoyable and help you stick with it. It’s also a good safety move because if you do run into any problems, there’s someone there to help. Grab a friend or join a walking club. Check with your community center or hospital to find a group in your area, or see if one of the following free programs has a group near you.
- Walk With a Doc is a website that offers walks led by local doctors. The frequency varies from weekly to monthly.
- The EverWalk site offers monthly guided walks in about 30 states and ways to connect with other walkers.
- GirlTrek is a community of Black women that promotes health and organizes walking events online in several local areas.
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