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Walking

An active way of life is important for all of us and becomes more important as we grow older.

Walking at a comfortable speed improves heart-lung function. It's also good for general fitness as well as being safe, cheap and convenient. It can be enjoyed alone or with friends.

Walking is good for you

Walking at a comfortable speed improves heart-lung function and is good for general fitness.

If you walk regularly you tend to:

  • feel more confident, happy and relaxed
  • control your weight better
  • have healthier blood cholesterol level
  • have lower blood pressure
  • have stronger bones (less osteoporosis)
  • be less likely to have a heart attack
  • recover better from a heart attack
  • be less likely to have a stroke
  • be less likely to develop diabetes in middle age

How often and how hard?

Just a short comfortable walk every day will give you great health benefits.

How often? Try to walk every day. Ideally adults should get a total of 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise - like walking - on most (preferably all) days of the week. The more exercise you can do the better - providing you follow the steps outlined in this guide.

How hard? Find the level that suits you best. You should still be able to talk (or whistle) comfortably as you walk.

Getting started and staying motivated

Once you get started, you'll realise how enjoyable and relaxing walking can be.

Walking is a great social activity - you can walk with a friend or join a club. Or you might prefer the quiet of a solitary walk. Whatever you do, the aim is for comfort and enjoyment while keeping active.

Before getting started see your doctor if you:

  • have been inactive for a long time
  • have a history of heart disease or chest pains
  • have diabetes
  • are very overweight
  • are a smoker
  • have high blood pressure

Staying motivated

Here are some tips to keep your motivation levels up:

  • walk with a friend or in a group, or with your spouse and family
  • use the times you walk to think or relax
  • plan your walks in advance
  • vary your walks
  • visit a national park or an historic landmark
  • visit a friend
  • walk the dog
  • join a walking group

10 important tips

Here are 10 tips to ensure your walking is an enjoyable and healthy experience.

  1. Wear a broad brimmed hat and sunglasses, and use a broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 15+ on any exposed skin. Avoid the hottest times of the day and keep to shaded areas.
  2. Wear light, loose, comfortable clothing and well cushioned, flat-soled shoes.
  3. Always let someone know where you're going and your expected time of return.
  4. Walk steadily, concentrating on a steady heel to toe action, letting your arms swing freely by your sides. After a while you'll develop the rhythm and stride most natural for your weight and height.
  5. If you're going on a long or strenuous walk, drink water before you start, and carry a supply with you, especially in hot weather. A small backpack is useful for carrying water, sunglasses, sunscreen and other useful items.
  6. If your breathing becomes uncomfortable, slow down, but try not to stop completely if you have been walking briskly. Sudden stopping can cause a feeling of dizziness as oxygenated blood drops with gravity away from your brain.
  7. In cold weather a hat prevents heat loss from your head.
  8. Avoid walking immediately after meals and don't walk if you have a fever or bad cold.
  9. If you're walking in the dark, wear light coloured clothing so motorists can easily see you.
  10. You may feel sore in the early stages of your program, as your body adjusts to new demands being placed upon it. As your body adapts, the soreness will decrease. In addition, stretching before and after exercise can help minimise soreness.

Stretching

It's desirable to stretch both before and after you go on your walk.

Try these stretches and remember you should always be warm before stretching:

  • ease into, hold and ease out of each stretch
  • hold each stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds
  • stretching should never be painful, although you might feel a mild discomfort
  • never bounce while stretching
  • perform stretches on both legs

1. Prop leg against a tree or chair at a comfortable height with knee slightly bent, lean slowly forward to feel the stretch at the back of your thigh. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat with other leg.

2. Stand with hands placed on wall for support. Put one leg behind keeping heel flat on ground. Keep other leg slightly bent with weight on back leg. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat with other leg.

3. Sit on a chair with both feet on floor. Turn arms, head and shoulder to grasp the back of the chair. Keep buttocks on chair. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on other side.

4. Bring heel to bottom and push hip forward to increase stretch. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat with other leg.

The importance of footwear

Sore feet show on your face!

Your most important equipment is a pair of sturdy, comfortable lightweight walking shoes. If your feet feel good, you will walk well - and continue walking.

When choosing the right walking shoes, check for:

  • upper of high quality, breathable material, such as leather and/or nylon mesh
  • comfortable, padded heel collar
  • firm heel counter (that cups the heel)
  • stability for the entire foot and leg
  • heel should be held in the shoe, well cushioned and supported somewhat higher that the rest of the foot
  • entire shoe should be designed to absorb shock
  • substantial arch supports
  • a sole designed specifically to enhance smooth heel to toe motion
  • the toe box should allow ample room and toes should not be tight against any part of the shoe

Walking after a heart attack

If you've recently had a heart attack or heart surgery, exercise will play an important part in your recovery.

Walking is safe and easy and you can begin with an easy stroll twice a day during the week after you leave hospital.

Use this chart as your guide to getting into a regular walking program. But talk it over with your doctor first.

Week Time (minutes) Minimum distance (metres) Times per day Speed
1 5 - 10 250 2 stroll
2 10 - 15 500 2 comfortable
3 15 - 20 1000 2 comfortable
4 20 - 25 1500 1 - 2 comfortable / stride out
5 25 - 30 2000 1 - 2 comfortable / stride out
6 30 2500 1 - 2 comfortable / stride out
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