Why Walking Is Seriously Your Easiest, Most Sanity-Saving Exercise Now — Doctor Advice

If you are suffering from the stay-at-home stir crazies, a top foot and ankle doctor explains why walking will boost your overall physical and mental health.

Feeling trapped after being stuck inside under stay-at-home orders for weeks? Even if you’re living in a coronavirus epicenter city like New York City, Chicago or Detroit, you can get out and get walking. It will elevate your energy, improve your mood, help you maintain your weight and improve your cardiovascular health. So if you’re in a crowded area, put on your mask and keep 6 feet away from your neighbors, but if you can get to a big park or go on a hike, enjoy being mask-free if no one is nearby. “Walking is by far more therapeutic than most forms of exercise. Most people can do it. It gives us a form of mental and physical emancipation”, says Dr. Rock Positano, director of the Non-Surgical Foot and Ankle Center at NYC’s Hospital for Special Surgery. “And it’s essential that you change your environment. People are going stir crazy!”

They sure are. Stay-at-home orders started in the San Francisco Bay area on March 11, in the state of California on March 19 and in New York on March 22.  At one point eighty percent of Americans (more than 262 million people) were under unprecedented stay – at – home orders, during the coronavirus epidemic, according to CNN.

While many of you may think you need to run, bike or do intense workouts to get the benefits of exercise, that’s not true. “Walking doesn’t get the respect it deserves,” according to Harvard Health Publishing. Walking lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, the risk of diabetes, as well as protecting against obesity, diabetes, depression and colon cancer, reports Harvard Health Publishing. 

Walking will “improve your cardiovascular physiology. Your nerves are better served by the oxygenation created by walking” explains Dr. Positano. “But as well, it strengthens muscles and ligaments and improves your muscular and skeletal health. Everything starts with the foot and ankle”, he points out.

As for the calorie burn benefit of walking, you can get that too – especially if you walk vigorously or have the opportunity to walk up hills and not just stay on a flat surface. For example, if you weigh 125 pounds and walk at a leisurely pace of 3.5 mph, you’ll burn 240 calories in an hour. If you weigh 155 pounds, that will be 270 per hour, according to Livestrong.com.

Now, if you pick up your speed to be 4.5 mph –  in other words, hustle a bit – you’ll burn 356 calories in an hour if you weigh 125 pounds, or 400 calories at 155 pounds.

Now – pay attention to this: if you walk uphill at a comfortable speed on a treadmill incline (experiment with what incline you can handle), or in a hilly area or on a hike, a 130 pound person will burn 558 calories in an hour, according to Livestrong.com.

Also, remember, if you are able to get to a hiking area and go on a two or three hour hike, that’s 558 calories burned ,times two or three. Plus, you are getting the benefits of weight-bearing exercise for a much longer period, which strengthens your muscles and ligaments, and that allows your hips, lower back and discs to work more efficiently, according to Dr. Positano. 

However, the doctor emphasizes that it’s critical for walking and hiking to wear a comfortable shoe – preferably a sneaker or an above-the-ankle hiking boot with a supportive arch and comfortable, non-irritating socks to prevent blisters. “I’m an advocate of white cotton socks for walking. Don’t wear socks with dye. Dye can lead to and cause dermatitis”, says Dr. Positano. He cautions against not wearing socks, even if you like the look. “Shoes have lots of bacteria,” he warns. If your feet nevertheless do get irritated or swell after a walk, he suggests soaking them in cool water.

Dr. Positano also warns against enthusiastically jumping into walking for longer distances than you are used to. “If you are accustomed to walking a mile, you’ll get into trouble if you try immediately going from one mile to ten. Then you can get stress fractures because you aren’t used to the repetitive loading of pressure on the foot bones. As well, you can get tendinitis in your foot ligaments”, explains Dr. Positano. Instead, if you haven’t been an avid walker before this, start with 15 to 20 minutes a day and then after a week, add 5 minutes”, he says. “Then, increase by another 5 minutes a day every week.” 

In any case, why not take advantage of the easiest and safest exercise you can do – start walking. 

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