Walk Your Way to Weight Loss

Walking is the exercise of choice for most dieters. No wonder.

You don’t need a gym membership. You can do it virtually everywhere (around the block or around the mall, for example). It’s gentle on joints. And you can burn a surprising number of calories. On flat terrain, a half-hour walk at a brisk pace can chew through 75 to 100 calories. Hike up some hills and you can spend 200 to 250 calories. Here’s how to prepare:

Find a Shoe That Fits
The only equipment you really need is a decent pair of walking shoes. Finding them is a cinch. What matters most is comfort. If it feels good, odds are it provides enough support. When you’re shopping for shoes:

1. Wear the socks you plan to exercise in. That way you’ll get the best fit.

2. Try on both shoes. Most people’s feet aren’t exactly the same size. Choose a pair that fits your larger foot.

3. Allow a little extra room. Feet swell when you walk, so buy a pair with about a thumb’s width between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Make sure the heel doesn’t slip, though, or you could end up with painful blisters.

Check Your Form
Sure, walking comes naturally, and it’s smart to go with the technique you’ve honed since you were a toddler. But these tips will help you stay comfortable and get the most out of your walk:

1. Stand up straight. Imagine a string pulling you up from the center of the top of your head. Let that string pull you up as straight as possible. Relax your shoulders.

2. Look ahead. Keep your neck straight and your head held high to avoid unnecessary strain to your neck and shoulders. If you have to look down to see where you’re going, lower your eyes, not your head.

3. Move those arms. Bend your elbows and let your arms swing naturally at your sides. You’ll prevent swelling, tingling or numbness — and you’ll burn up to 15 percent more calories by keeping your arms moving.

5. Don’t carry that weight. Some people try to get in extra exercise by toting a couple of light dumbbells, but fitness-walking experts say that’s risky: The weights can pull you off balance and strain muscles in your back or legs.

Stay Safe
Walking is one of the safest activities you can do. Still, it’s wise to take a few precautions:

1. If you’re walking at night, wear a piece of reflective clothing.

2. If the path is dimly lit, bring a good flashlight.

3. When the weather’s warm, be sure to drink a tall glass of water before you set out and another when you return.

4. If your path is rugged or bumpy, protect your ankles, particularly if you have a history of twists or sprains. Consider wearing a comfortable elastic bandage for support, and keep your eyes focused on the path.

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