Approximately 67 million men and women are walking regularly. However, unlike jogging, there are fewer injuries to the feet, ankles, knees, hips and lower back in this sport. Many walk for their own benefits and others are walking for charitable causes.

The potential benefits to a regular walking program include lower blood pressure, a reduction in stress and arthritic pain, and an improvement in circulation. However, those over 40 should consider a medical check-up before beginning an exercise program.

To have fun in your walking program and reach your exercise goals, it is important to wear the proper shoes, as the feet are the gatekeepers to the lower extremities. Many individuals who take up walking programs have a tendency to overpronate, meaning the body weight rolls off the inner arch instead of going through the entire foot and rolling off the ends of the

toes. This is an inefficient way to use your feet and can cause foot, ankle, knee, hip and lower back pain.

Neglected, these foot dysfunctions can lead to structural defects. A prescribed orthotic device (insert into shoe) will redistribute your weight and help you walk more naturally.

It is also important to warm-up and cool down before and after exercise, as well as pacing yourself into a regular walking routine. It is much wiser to start off slowly and to let the working muscles receive the blood flow for all-out walking, moving the arms with the legs efficiently.

Go slow, have fun and remember that walking is a great prescription for health.

Robert F. Weiss is a podiatrist specializing in foot and ankle surgery. He was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials. Weiss is a veteran of 35 Marathons and has a practice in Darien: The Foot & Ankle Institute of Darien. For more information, visit www.therunning doctor.net.

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