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Boost your walking workout to prevent cancer

Focused on Health - March 2013

by Laura Nathan-Garner

When the weather warms up and the sun is out longer, you just itch to get outside. Why not slather on some sunscreen and take a walk?

walking workoutWalking, after all, can be a great way to get the daily activity your body needs to fight off cancer.

Walking also can help you maintain a healthy body weight. For women, walking lowers hormone levels that increase the risk for breast and endometrial cancers.

But before you head outside, take note: a casual stroll won’t do the trick.

“For walking to count as exercise, you should be a little out of breath and feel your heart beating a little faster,” says Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson. “You should be able to talk in short sentences, but not sing.”

Follow these tips to maximize the prevention perks of walking.

Wear the right shoes

Injuries are one of the most common reasons people ditch an exercise routine. So if you want to make a habit of walking, start by wearing sturdy athletic shoes that provide good support.

Give yourself a leg up by selecting shoes with a toe box wide enough for your feet and with good flexibility around your toes. And, choose a rounded heel that will allow a rolling motion from toe to heel.

READ ALSO: The best workout shoe for your feet

Remember to stretch

walking stretchBefore and after you walk, take a couple of minutes to stretch, focusing on your calves and hamstrings.

Stretching before you walk helps warm up and prepare your muscles. And, stretching after you walk will help relax your muscles — and ready them for your next walk.

READ ALSO: Stretch out your workout

Check your form

Walking with your head down or leaning back could hurt your lower back. So, stand straight, with your head up and shoulders back.

Take quicker, not longer, steps

The best way to achieve a brisk pace isn’t taking longer steps — it’s taking quicker ones. Power your walk by bending your elbows and pushing off your toes as you take each step.

Increase your intensity

As you get into the habit of walking, aim to increase your intensity. This will boost your fitness level, which can help build muscle mass, speed up your metabolism, strengthen your heart and burn more calories.

walking shoeTo up your intensity, gradually include hilly areas in your route. Or, try interval training. Walk at your standard brisk pace for five minutes, speed up for two minutes, slow down, then speed up again and repeat.

Break up walks into short intervals

Just starting a walking routine? Break your walking workout into three 10-minute segments or two 15-minute segments until you get stronger.

Don’t limit walking to leisure time

Several studies have shown that sitting for long periods over time increases a person’s risks for diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. That’s true even for people who exercise regularly.

So if you really want to reap the rewards of walking, find ways to include more walking in your daily activities. Try these tips:

  • Have walking meetings with business colleagues. 
  • Park far from the entrance instead of finding a front-row space.
  • Get off the train or bus a few stops early, and walk the rest of the way.
  • Walk around the mall a couple of times before shopping.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.

So go ahead — lace up your sneakers and start walking away from cancer.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center