Preventive Maintenance: Take a Hike

by Karen Bowen

Can you imagine? In your lifetime you will probably walk up to 115,000 miles, which is like walking around the world more than three times! With every step, your feet absorb four to five lbs. per square inch of force. No wonder they are tired.

So should you skip the walk tonight? Not really.

Walking has great long-term effects. Regular walking not only makes you look better, it makes you feel better. Regular walking prolongs life by lowering the risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

One study found that a brisk half-hour walk just six times a month cuts the risk of early death by 44 per cent among twins observed, and that even people who walked occasionally were 30 per cent less likely to die early than their sedentary twins.

Walking helps in the short term too, by controlling weight, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. A brisk walk can burn up to 100 calories per mile or 300 calories per hour.

If you’ve already lost some weight and want to keep it off, walk regularly.

Walking also improves your heart function and circulation because it has to beat faster, pumping the oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the muscles. In turn, the tiny blood vessels that feed the middle of the muscle get bigger and work better.

Walking can help you recover from many illnesses, including heart attack. Walking just plain makes you feel better, relieving depression, anxiety and stress by producing endorphins, the body’s natural tranquilizer.

But before you tie on those walking shoes and head out for a strenuous walk, you should talk to your doctor (as you should before starting any fitness program.)

This is especially important if you are carrying a lot of extra weight; physically inactive and become easily fatigued; and/or have a pre-existing foot condition or a family history of heart disease, poor circulation or diabetes.

After you get the okay to take a walk, make sure you stay comfortable. Wear the right kind of socks and shoes.

For a leisurely walk, walking shoes with good support and cushioning will do fine.

For power walking, you’ll need something more substantial like an athletic walking/running shoe with a firm heel counter, strong arch support and a flexible forefoot.

This will keep your foot moving properly. For hiking, hiking boots with ankle support, a stiff shank and deep tread will work best.

Try on many pairs before you buy one and wear the same kind of socks you’ll wear when walking. Buy shoes after lunch or in the evening because your feet can expand to half a size larger during the course of the day.

Otherwise, what fits in the morning may not fit at night. Shoes that just don’t fit well cause 80 per cent of all foot problems.

Before you set out on your walk, take a few minutes to warm-up, stretching your hamstrings, calves, Achilles tendons and shins. Then, begin your walk slowly, gradually increasing your pace to let the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments get used to the idea.

Examine ankles

Take the time to look at your feet and ankles – before and after you walk.

If you notice red spots, swelling, or other abnormalities, including numbness, tingling or burning, contact your doctor.

Catching them quickly can stop a small problem from getting bigger.

One common problem is pain in the heels. Bone spurs?

Perhaps, but heel pain is often just caused by poor foot mechanics and strain.

If you recently started an exercise program that includes running, walking or even gardening, you may be straining your foot and irritating the ligament that runs from the heel bone to the front of the foot (plantar fascia). When this ligament gets strained or overused, it becomes inflamed and painful.

Shouldn’t hurt

Because of the recent exercise craze, heel pain is the fastest growing foot problem in North America.

Walking shouldn’t be painful. To prevent injuries, walk on soft ground. As we get older, the natural shock absorbers (fat padding) in our feet deteriorate, along with bone density (particularly in women).

To avoid stress fractures, walk on grass or dirt paths that are flat, even and well manicured.

They are more foot-friendly, producing less shock than harder surfaces.

This is a great season for walking, but when winter comes try not to spend a lot of time walking in the cold.

When your feet get cold, you can’t feel when things go wrong. As well, the frozen ground is harder, jarring your feet and ankles (and your rear if you slip on the ice).

Instead, head to the local mall or walk at an indoor track or exercise facility. Walking is inexpensive, but invaluable.

It’s good for your heart, circulation, respiration, blood pressure, pulse rate and cholesterol, so smile when the next person says, “Take a hike.”

They’re just thinking of your health.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.