This article was originally featured in HealthHub: The Brigham and Women’s Hospital Health Blog.
Walking on a regular basis—even if the cold weather forces you to walk at the mall—can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. But did you know that how you walk, how long you walk, and what you wear can make a difference?
One of the latest findings of Nurses’ Health Study II, follow-up research from Brigham and Women’s landmark Nurses’ Health Study, has shed some light on why brisk walking may be better for you than other forms of exercise. Involving over 18,000 premenopausal women, the study revealed that those women who gradually increased the time and distance of their walk – upping their pace – gained less weight and got the most health benefits.
“The key is that it needs to be brisk and last at least 30 minutes. Slow walking, specifically less than three miles an hour, did not thwart weight gain. Yet any walking is better than none as it still may benefit your bones, lungs, heart and overall health,” says Linda E. Arslanian, PT, DPT, MS, Director of Physical and Occupational Therapy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Your walk should include three distinct segments: warm-up, exercise pace, and cool-down. “You should walk the first five or 10 minutes at a reduced pace, at about 50 percent of your maximum effort,” Arslanian explains. “After the warm-up period you should stretch and then walk at an exercise pace. The last five minutes or so of your walk you should gradually slow down to your warm-up pace.”
And, to get the most out of your walk, you need to consider what you wear. “Start with a comfortable well-fitted walking shoe. “Remember to buy your walking shoes so that they fit properly to your larger foot – since most people have one foot that is slightly larger than the other,” says Arslanian.
Choose the socks you like, thick or thin, what’s more important is what fabric they are made of. Arslanian explains, “Steer clear of cotton socks, which soak up perspiration, and wear socks made of fibers that draw moisture away from your skin.”
Also, your clothes should be loose fitting and, if walking outside in colder temperatures, layering works well so that you can take off clothes as you warm up. If you follow these steps (no pun intended), you’ll get the most out of your walk.