All About Walking

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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: In 2010, 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

For Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness
Mark Fenton
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.

This website 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.

[email protected]
This bimonthly magazine covers general walking information as well as personal stories, specialized advice, and seasonal topics. Walk About can be picked up for free at numerous locations throughout Washington and Oregon; it can also be mail-delivered for $14.95 per year by sending a check or money order to Walk About magazine, 4823 NE 21st Ave., Portland OR 97211.

(210) 659-2112
[email protected]
The American Volkssport Association is a nationwide network of roughly 300 local recreation clubs, which hold walking events (and occasional biking, skiing, and swimming events) that are open to the public. Visitors to the website can learn about the organization, find a local club and its events, and learn how to start a club if there is not one close by.

Tools and tidbits

MapMyWalk allows visitors to calculate the distance of a walking route by tracing it on a map; it works for any location in the world covered by Google maps.

On this website, you can find out how conducive a neighborhood is to walking by typing in an address. Based on the proximity of grocery stores, parks, schools, restaurants, libraries, and more, the site generates a score of 0—100 for the location. The neighborhood’s attractions are also listed by category (schools, coffee shops, etc.) with their distance from the originating address; they are shown on a map of the neighborhood, as well.

This web page, from the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, goes over the basics of safely crossing streets and following signs and traffic signals.

This web page features 10 tips for selecting the right pair of walking shoes.

Community action

(503) 757-8342
America Walks provides support to local groups that advocate making their communities more walkable. It also aims to educate the public about the benefits of walking and of walkable communities. The website provides the contact information for local groups and outlines steps that can be taken to start a “walkable community” movement.

This is the walking website of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, a national clearinghouse for information about all aspects of walking and biking. There are sections on the benefits of walking, walking safety facts, and ways to improve access to walking and pedestrian safety. One prominent feature is a “walkability checklist” that can be used to determine how conducive your neighborhood is to walking, and how to improve any problems that you find. You can also use the site to search for and contact your local or state pedestrian/bicycle transportation coordinator.

If you would like a personal response to a question about walking or bicycling, you can e-mail the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information center at [email protected].

[email protected]
Walk Bike to School organizes an annual Walk to School Day to bring attention to both the benefits of walking and the need for safe routes. In 2014, Walk to School Day is Wednesday, October 8. Schools can register for the event online, and participating schools receive support and downloadable materials from the organization.

(866) 610-7787
The National Center for Safe Routes to School, which is affiliated with the University of North Carolina, provides resources to help communities make it easier for children to walk and bike to school. Its website has information on how to start and sustain a Safe Routes to School program, a forum for discussing the challenges surrounding walking to school, and live Webinars (web seminars) on how to tackle various issues. You can sign up on the site to receive the group’s free e-newsletter.

Originally Published October 25, 2010

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