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Fit for Sport 2: Running and Power Walking

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Mark Adshead, Managing Director of Physio2go St. Albans explores the benefits of walking/power walking and running as part of an active fitness regimen. Mark also looks at selecting the correct footwear for exercise.

Benefits of walking

The evidence is in…. walking is good for you! It’s good for your heart; regular walking has been shown to “lower the bad and raise your good cholesterol” and reduces your risk of high blood pressure. It’s good for your muscles and it strengthens your bones and is an integral part of a weight reduction or weight maintenance programme. Of particular relevance to the older adult, walking on a regular basis improves balance and flexibility. Fit walkers are less likely to fall but should a fall occur, regular walkers are less likely to sustain serious injuries; their joints have a better range of movement, their muscles are more flexible.

Power or fitness walking

Power or fitness walking is brisk walking with rapid arm pumping. Power walking will quickly improve muscle tone in the lower body (bottom, thighs and hips) as well as abdominal, back and shoulder muscles. It improves fat metabolism and will burn calories at almost the same rate as running and it is more joint friendly! Remember, power walking is not longer strides (which can cause injury); it is a more rapid pace. The intensity of walking for fitness benefits will of course vary according to the age and general fitness of the individual. If you are planning to move from mere strolling (window shopping mode!) to fitness walking or running, there are a number of issues to consider in order to achieve maximum benefit while preventing injuries.
It is important to be able to assess “what counts” as brisk walking for you! Knowing your personal level will help you to maximise your efforts without overdoing it. The “talk test” is an excellent guide as you begin your walking for fitness regime. If you are so out of breath that you can’t carry on a conversation with the person walking with you, you are probably walking too fast and should slow down! Jogging works different muscles from walking, and even short bursts (1-2 minutes) of jogging incorporated into your walking regimen can improve the efficiency of your exercise.

Getting started: preparation for exercise

Stretching is best done once the muscles and tendons have been warmed; inadequate warm up periods can lead to injury early on in your exercise programme. A simple way to start your warm up is to walk briskly or step up and down on the bottom stairs until you feel slightly breathless, this is a good warm up to your cardiovascular system as well! You are now ready to commence your muscle stretching regime.
Gentle stretching of all muscle groups (Front of thigh, back of thigh, groin, calves etc.) should be performed in a slow manner holding each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds prior to setting off for a run/walk. You should stretch until you feel tension, not pain, and do not bounce when stretching. Stretching should be carried out both before and after any exercise programme. Always seek professional instruction if you are unsure; ask a Physiotherapist or gym trainer to give you a specific routine. If you are ever in doubt about starting any fitness programme, check with your family doctor.

Common injuries

General muscle aches occur when you start to do any new physical exercise, an indication that the muscles have been working harder than their norm. Sharp pains and weakness however must not be ignored, as these may be signs of muscle, tendon or ligament injury. Do not “run through the pain”, joint or muscle pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop and seek medical advice. Muscle cramp can be prevented through adequate hydration and electrolyte reserve. During running, excessive pronation (flat- foot) causes increased stress on the structures that support the foot and increased work for the muscles that can result in injuries to the lower leg. Prolonged and repeated overloading on the legs can also result in stress fracture of the bones within the lower leg and foot. Overuse injuries occur when a tissue is subjected to a repeated or high load that then causes microscopic ruptures and tissue injury. The body’s response to injury is inflammation. This can result in bruised heels, plantar fasciitis and inflammation of the heel bursa. All these injuries can be helped with various forms of physiotherapy including massage, ultrasound, strapping, acupuncture, and advice on specific exercises and stretching. Always seek medical advice if you develop a pain whilst running which has failed to improve within 48 hours.

Injury prevention

Muscle and bone strength and tendon elasticity all start to decline from middle age. The age of an individual affects the strength and resilience of tissues and impacts on cardiac and respiratory reserve. It is therefore important to increase the intensity and distance gradually, whether fitness walking or running. Adequate hydration protects our joints, helps to regulate body temperature, and removes waste products from our working muscles. Trainers recommend 250ml of water before fitness walking, sips of water every 10-15 minutes during exercise, followed by 250ml following your walk. If you are feeling ill you should not run.
Footwear and gait analysis
It is easy to improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury by being aware of a few simple measures to take, whether you are an elite runner or a novice. For most people, the most important choice is the selection of footwear. You may have heard runners talking about pronation and supination running styles, technical jargon that describes how the arch of the foot sits, which affects the way we walk and run. In some cases this can lead to excess forces being applied to the structure of the lower limb leading to injuries.
Manufacturers have recognised this and now provide shoes to support each foot type. A visit to a sports shop with a specially trained technician can help in your shoe selection. It is most likely they will carry out a computerised gait analysis, which includes a video assessment of you walking or running on a treadmill. This is then played back via a special programme on the computer, allowing both the customer and the technician to identify an individual’s running style. As part of the advice process, the technician will ascertain how often you are running, how far, on what type of terrain, and whether or not you have any discomfort or previous injury. This information, coupled with the gait analysis will assist in the selection of the most appropriate shoe for you!

Stay motivated

Walking is a gentle low impact exercise; it is safe, simple and inexpensive. Set yourself some short-term goals, make it fun…. walk with a friend and vary your routine. Starting to power walk or run, as part of your fitness programme takes initiative, staying with it takes commitment. Focus on the overall health benefits; it is well worth the effort!

For further information please contact:
Physio2go Ltd.
York Lodge,
St. Peters St,
St. Albans,
AL 1 3HD
Telephone: 01727 850925

Email: info@physio2go.co.uk