Walking is the most popular form of exercise in the United States and throughout most of the world. Regular walking has been linked to significant health benefits, including weight loss, reduced cardiovascular risk, and reduced risk of cancer. As obesity becomes more prevalent in the United States, the benefits of walking are being taken more seriously than ever before: Earlier this year, walking was declared the official state exercise of Maryland, where the governor vetoed a similar proposal in 2003.
Walking can be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes. Any physical activity that moves large muscles, such as walking, can improve the body’s insulin sensitivity, which may lead to improved blood glucose control. A brisk walk after a meal can also help bring down a spike in blood glucose following the meal. Because of this blood-glucose-lowering effect, people with diabetes should watch out for hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) when they walk. Many doctors suggest checking your blood glucose level before and even during exercise, as well as bringing along a source of carbohydrate in case blood glucose begins to drop too low.
Even though walking is second nature to most people, you may still have some questions. For example, does the ideal walking regimen vary depending on whether your goal is weight loss, improved blood glucose control, stress reduction, or something else? What’s the best walking shoe? Should you use a pedometer? And how safe is it to walk in your community? The following resources address these concerns and many others.
General information and fitness
THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WALKING
For Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness
The Lyons Press
Guilford, Connecticut, 2008
This book, by the founder and former editor of Reader’s Digest Walking, covers all the basics of walking with an emphasis on working toward individualized goals. It outlines a yearlong plan to get in better shape that can be followed at any ability level, whether you want to simply exercise more or to become a competitive racewalker.
This is one of the most comprehensive sites about walking on the Internet. It has a regularly updated blog, along with articles that cover walking programs, gear (from shoes to pedometers to treadmills), nutrition, walking clubs and events, and much more. The resident expert is a certified marathon coach who has written for the site since 1996.
THE WALKING SITE
This Web site has information on starting a walking program, avoiding injuries, nutrition for walking, choosing shoes, staying motivated, and more. It also features a message board for discussing any walking-related topic.
This site, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, provides basic information on walking for senior citizens. It goes over the health benefits of walking, gives tips on how to start a walking regimen, and suggests ways to stay safe while walking and to make your community safer for pedestrians. There are also tips for staying motivated once you have committed to walking regularly.
STEP UP TO BETTER HEALTH
This is the home of AARP’s 10-week walking program. The program requires a pedometer (step counter), which can be purchased through the site for $9; you can also buy one on your own. The program features an online area to track your progress on one of four virtual trails: “Lewis & Clark Trail,” “Alaska Military Highway,” “Highway 50,” and “Appalachian Trail.”