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by Dr. Darrell M. Schreyer, D.C.

Walking is the most popular form of exercise. If you have been up and down the Burt Gillman Trail lately you would tend to agree. The cyclists pass, the roller-bladers whiz by, but the mainstay of the trail is the pedestrian.

People walk for many reasons. It being either for pleasure, to rid themselves of tensions, to find solitude, or to get from one place to another. Nearly everyone who walks regularly does so at least in part because of a conviction that it is good exercise. Often dismissed in the past as being "too easy" to be taken seriously, studies show that, when done briskly on a regular schedule, it can improve the body's ability to consume oxygen during exertion, lower the resting heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and increase the efficiency of the heart and lungs. It also helps burn excess calories.

Walking burns approximately the same amount of calories per mile as does running, which is particularly appealing to those who find it difficult to sustain the jarring effects of long-distance jogging on their low backs, knees, and ankles.

In some weight-loss and conditioning studies, walking actually has proven to be more effective than running and other more highly-touted activities. That's because it's virtually injury-free and has the lowest dropout rate of any form of exercise. Like other forms of exercise, walking appears to have a substantial psychological payoff. Beginning walkers almost invariably report that they feel better and sleep better, and that their mental outlook improves.

In addition to the qualities it has in common with other activities, walking has several unique advantages. Some of these include:

  • Almost anyone can do it. You don't have to take lessons to learn how to walk.
  • You can do it almost anywhere. All you have to do to find a place to walk is step outside your door. Almost any sidewalk, street, road, trail park, field, or shopping mall will do.
  • You can do it almost anytime. You don't have to find a partner or get a team together to walk, so you can set your own schedule. Weather doesn't pose the same problems and uncertainties that it does in many sports.
  • It doesn't cost anything. You don't have to pay fees or join a private club to become a walker. The only equipment required is a sturdy, comfortable pair of shoes.
  • You can do it alone, with a friend or spouse, or with a group. If you are a loner, you can walk by yourself. If you enjoy interaction with others, you can walk with any number of people.

If you are free of serious health problems, you can start walking with confidence. Walking is not as strenuous as running, bicycling, or swimming and consequently involves almost no risk to health. Of course, this statement assumes that you will exercise good judgment and not try to exceed the limits of your condition.

Most physicians recommend a check-up before starting any exercise program, especially for persons over 45 years of age. Also, if you have high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems or other health or medical conditions, you should consult your physician before beginning any kind of exercise program. And of course if you have any form of acute or chronic low back pain, or joint problems of the hips, knees, or ankles, you should consult and be examined by the specialist that can assess and correct these problems: a Doctor of Chiropractic.

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