For many of us, warmer weather means a return to outdoor exercise. While jogging remains extremely popular – approximately 50 million Americans, or 15% of the U.S. population, engage in some form of running or jogging, according to research firm Statista – power walking can actually provide many of the same results.
Consider these benefits:
- Low Impact. Power walking raises your heart rate while being gentle on your joints and muscles.
- Burn Calories: You can burn just as many calories power walking as you can jogging if you use the correct technique.
- Improves Overall Health: Power walking can help boost good cholesterol levels and lower high blood pressure. It can also help reduce the risk of diseases such type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and strokes.
- Good for Everyone: Power walking is beneficial for people of all ages and fitness levels.
- Boosts Mental Health and Brain Function: Brisk walking has a significant impact on your brain function, decision-making abilities, and memory. Walking can ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
With any foot-related activity, there are several potential concerns that should be addressed, and power walking/jogging is no exception. Properly preparing your feet is key; keeping your toenails trimmed is important, as they’ll rub against the front of your sneaker, causing pain, bleeding under the nail, and even permanent damage to the nail. Likewise, nails that are too short can lead to ingrown toenails.
Podiatrists recommend cutting your toenails straight across the top of the nail following the natural curve of your toe. Don’t round the edges, or try to cutting them into a V-shape.
Moisturizing your feet is also important. Before going on a long walk, apply ointments to areas that are at risk for blisters, bunions and hammertoes, and use a thin layer of Vaseline for the back of the heel.
The Right Equipment
You may think that walking does not require equipment, but that isn’t quite the case. The right shoes and socks can protect your feet from corns/calluses, blisters, bleeding, fatigue, pain and injury.
It may sound obvious, but if a shoe doesn’t feel comfortable when you try it on, don’t buy it. The shoe will not become more comfortable by “breaking it in.” In addition, remember that running shoes and walking shoes are different. Running shoes tend to be lighter in weight with more cushioning, while walking shoes should have good arch support and a flat sole.
Also, your feet should have room in your shoe, but not too much room. The toe box of the shoe should be spacious enough that your toes have plenty of wiggle room, but not more than that. As a rule of thumb, make sure there’s about half an inch of space between your big toe and the front of the shoe.
Other factors to keep in mind:
- The width of the shoe matters. Look for shoes that have narrow, medium or wide options to fit your feet.
- Most of us have one foot that is slightly larger than the other. Make sure your shoe fits the larger foot.
- Wear the right socks. Bring the socks you plan to wear on your walks with you to the shoe store, as sock thickness can affect the fit of a shoe.
- It is best to avoid 100% cotton socks because it holds moisture and traps it against your skin. This can cause sweaty feet in the summer and cold feet in the winter.
- Moisture-wicking socks are made from fabrics like merino wool, nylon, and polyester, all of which are designed to transfer moisture away from the skin.
Lastly, as with most exercise, a cool down period is recommended. Stretch your feet to improve flexibility and circulation and to prevent/relieve pain. Don’t forget to let your feet breathe; they will sweat after a long walk. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot and toenail fungus loves moist, dark, places to grow. After exercise, take off your socks and shoes as soon as possible. Make sure to wash your feet and dry them well, especially between the toes.
And don’t ignore pain. The well-worn phrase “no pain, no gain” does not apply to your feet; persistent foot and toe pain can be indicative of injury, irritation or illness. Schedule an appointment with your podiatrist if you experience pain that is not getting better.
In the meantime, get out and enjoy the springtime!
Dr. Michelle Castiello is a podiatrist at White Plains Hospital Physician Associates, seeing patients at 600 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 102 in Harrison. To make an appointment, call 914-723-8100.