Walking Back to Health

Few people would think of walking as cure for many of the ailments we all accept as part of our modern lifestyle but it is now recognised as one of the best exercises you can do at any age. * Walking helps regulate the heart. * Walking, it is believed, can boost the immune system causing the body to produce killer cells which will destroy any germ cells they do not recognise. However to achieve this you must walk every day. * Walking increases blood flow and raises oxygen levels in the body. This in turn stimulates the immune system and helps repair tissue damage.

* Walking burns off calories. * Walking minimises your risk of bowel cancer (according to a report by the US Surgeon General).

* Walking makes you feel better and helps reduce stress that is part of our modern daily life. * Walking has long been prescribed by doctors and chiropractors for people with low back pain.

These are just some of the benefits of regular walking and apart from the cost of a good pair of shoes it's free! If you suffer from low back problems you should consider including walking as part of your regular daily exercise routine. If your neighbourhood is one where you don't feel comfortable walking then think about joining a gym and get on the treadmill with your IPOD or MP3 player.

A recent study by UCLA researchers found that a group of low back pain patients who did 3 hours brisk walking per week had considerably less pain and distress than a group who were given specific low back exercises. Before you grab your walking shoes and rush outside there are a few points to consider if you want to reap the maximum benefit from your walking.

The first is stretching. Always do a few gentle stretches before and after your walk find out from your healthcare practitioner what stretches are the most suitable for yourself. The muscles should always be warm before stretching, and the stretch should always be gentle. Current research indicates that the stretch should be held for at least 30 seconds to be fully effective. Always ensure that your breathing is relaxed and rhythmic holding your breath will make any stretch ineffective. It is also important to stretch on both sides to maintain symmetry. As a general rule do warm up stretching exercises starting at the top of your body and work downward.

Here are some examples of suitable stretches for walking. Please note that these are for illustrative purposes only. You should consult a dedicated book or worksheet before doing these stretches.

HEAD ROLLS - rotate your head around so you end up with your ear near your shoulder then go the other way. Repeat this several times, and then do some arm circles.

HIP STRETCH - hold on to a chair and bend your right knee, keep your spine straight and upright. Lean forward slightly and keep the left leg straight. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides. LEG STRETCH - stand erect and hold onto a wall or a chair for support. Now bend one knee behind you so that you can grasp your foot. Hold your foot against your bottom and gently push your knee gently back as far as you can. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat with the opposite leg. CALF STRETCH keep your spine straight and push lightly against a wall with open palms. Place one leg forward with knee bent - this leg will have no weight put on it. Keep other leg back and straight with and heel down. Gently move your hips toward the wall until you feel a stretch. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat with other leg.

HAMSTRING STRETCH place your foot on a bench or chair with your toe pointing upwards. You should be standing far enough away such that your leg is straight. Bend forward slightly from the waist keeping one hand on the raised leg so that you feel your hamstring stretch. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat with the other leg. Secondly is posture. There is no point in walking if your posture is all wrong. Before you set out try this simple check. Stand with your back against a closed door. Try to align your shoulders against the door. Now try touching the door with the back of your head, your buttocks and your heels at the same time. If you can manage this then your body is in the correct alignment. Try taking your first few steps with your head held high, looking straight ahead. Keep those tummy muscles pulled in. Try to avoid leaning forward when you walk. Don't worry if you find walking like this a bit strange at first concentrate initially on holding your head high looking straight ahead after a few days you will find your are starting to walk more upright

Thirdly and equally important is footwear. If you suffer from lower back problems consider investing in a good pair of walking shoes or boots. You should wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes that provide good arch support. The best shoe for one person may not necessarily be the most suitable for another. It may even pay dividends to visit a podiatrist to see if it would be to your advantage to have heel inserts. If you are new to walking start off gently, do not overdo it for the first few sessions. Gradually build up to walking at least 30 minutes each day this is believed to be sufficient to decrease your risk of heart disease. If you can build it up to an hour per day it is believed you will decrease your risk of breast cancer and type two diabetes. The information in this article should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease. You should always consult with your health care professional as to the suitabilty of walking or any exercises described in this article and especially for health matters that may require diagnosis or medical attention. Bill Morrison has his own website http://www.help4urback.com where he describes his own personal experiences coping with lower back pain and sciatica. He also includes personal recommendations for people who suffer from sciatica or lower back pain including what books to buy, TENs machines, and what web sites to check out.

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