DEAR DOCTOR K: I’d like to start walking more for exercise. Is there a “correct” way to walk in order to reduce the risk of injury?
DEAR READER: Walking is natural, but in fact a complex series of things happens when we walk. First, your heel touches the ground, absorbing the impact of your weight. As the rest of your foot reaches the ground, your weight shifts forward to the ball of your foot and your toes.
Meanwhile, your arch partially flattens and the plantar fascia – the ligament-like structure that connects the heel to the ball of the foot – is stretched. Then your weight shifts again as you begin to rise on your toes and the ball of your foot, with the Achilles tendon lifting your ankle. Your body is propelled over that foot, with the weight passing onto the other foot.
Exercising your feet on a regular basis improves your overall foot health and may also reduce your risk for injury. The best overall foot exercise? Walking.
Before walking, take some time to stretch the muscles on the bottom of your feet:
• Stand with feet together.
• Step back with your left leg so your heel is raised and your toes press against the ground. You should feel the muscles on the bottom of your feet pull gently.
• Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
• Repeat with your right foot.
It’s also a good idea to stretch your legs and upper body.
After stretching, hit the road, starting out slowly if it’s the first time you’ve exercised in a while. And if it is the first time in a while, aim for 20 minutes three times a week, walking at a comfortable pace. Pick up the pace, time, distance and frequency gradually.
Here are some other tips to protect your feet:
• Make sure your shoes provide enough support but allow your feet to “breathe.”
• Walk with your head up and your back straight. If your posture is not good, your weight is distributed abnormally. Pressure is put on your leg joints, and your leg and low back muscles may be strained.
• Cool down after walking with stretching exercises or by walking at a slower pace.
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