Ask a Physio - Walking and Running for Health

Benefits of walking

Mr. Michael Rizk is a physiotherapy specialist and owner of iMove physiotherapy clinics. Check out their YouTube channel and Facebook page for more information and advice on taking care of your body.

Are walking and running simple exercises?

It's an interesting question. Let's start with walking. Yes, walking is a simple exercise. The ACSM's (American College of Sports Medicine) recommend the absolute minimum amount of walking we should do a week is 150 minutes. For those people currently not exercising this would be an ideal start. The two golden rules. 

- Get a pair of decent shoes.

- Only build up by 10% per week.

Running is a different beast. Running is a skill. There is a right and wrong way to run. Commonly, beginner runners start off with an overstrike (taking too large a step) and a big heel strike (landing with their foot out in in front and toes to sky). If you do this it's only a matter of time before something breaks down. We recommend everyone seeks a health professionals service; for instance, we perform running assessments, before starting running. 

Once you know these fundamentals you will enjoy running for the rest of your life. We have found running is a huge mental relief for a lot of office workers and has also started a whole new friendship group, not to mention the physical benefits.

Use the same rules as above. Get a decent pair of running shoes and only build up by 10% per week. A great way to do this is by running in 1 minute intervals whilst you’re on a 20 minute walk.

How should I start these exercises?

When starting a new walking or running program just be mindful of your body. Be mindful of niggles. Niggles are little things that may pop up after a longer than normal walk/run. You might just feel a tightness or hotness around your calf, or a tiny ache in the knee, 24 hours later its gone. Generally, if something is recovered after 24 hours you are OK. If anything persists longer than that it may be worth checking with a physio. Another great way to scan your body when on a walking or running program is by using a foam roller.

Using this you'll get an idea of what areas in your body are getting tight and it is a great tool to keep those niggles at bay.

What are common injuries and ways to avoid them?

The most common injuries would be Plantar Fascia (Pain underneath the foot), Achilles tendonitis (pain at the back of the heel) and knee pain. These can absolutely be prevented by;

a) Check your load. The body is an amazingly adaptive structure. If you have pain or an injury, quite simply, you have loaded beyond the rate that the body can adapt. To avoid this use the 10% rule. If you're comfortable walking 5km then the following week you should only shoot for 5.5km rather than getting over eager and shooting for 7km. If you give the body time it will respond to load in a positive manner. 10% rule.

b) Get that foam roller and start self-assessing/self-massaging every 48 hours. You will start to become familiar with where you are tight. Get on top of these early so tightness doesn't keep building run after run and then something gives up on you. The other tip here is if you are noticing something that is tight time after time after time then it may be a lack of strength causing the muscle to get tight. This is where a physio can get you strong in the right places to prevent that tightness/niggle/injury ever coming on.

What are good stretches for walking and running?

Here’s an easy to follow tutorial for rolling out your legs.

We’re learning that stretching isn't doing what we thought it did (i.e. lengthening muscles). For this to happen, you would have to hold stretches for a very long time to get a benefit and quite frankly I am starting to favour rolling as a form of self-assessment and recovery which can be done quicker and the effects felt sooner.

How do I decide on the right shoe?

For beginners, the shoe strategy isn't hugely important. Don't fall sucker to all those air bubbles, cushions with springs and Usain bolt ads. The biggest thing is not changing shoes too rapidly. Think 10% rule. Often people will go from a standard, cushioned Asics that are all too common to the latest racing flat overnight. This rapid change in environment from the foot will cause injuries.

The big thing to look out for is the 'shoe drop height'. This is the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe. Most standard, cushioned running shoes have a 12mm 'drop'. If you went from this to what stores would consider a lighter faster shoe the drop could be 8mm. This means your heel must travel that extra 4mm every step and that can cause irritations in the achilles, calf, foot.

There are a couple of running shoe speciality stores who can help with this but my advice would be stick to something similar until you have a year of consistent running or walking under your belt, then we can talk getting into lower, lighter, faster shoes.

How can a physio help me with my walking and running?

Physio can help with all this in several ways. I would recommend booking in for an assessment before starting a new walking or running program. This would be 40 minute/hour where we look at what's tight, what's weak, what needs a little help along the way. We will tailor a program from you that will keep any niggles at bay. Getting stronger will then increase your load tolerance and allow you to do more. During this we can also show you how to monitor/self-assess your own body on the roller or a ball, so you can look after your tight areas.

For those who are already familiar runners or just want to bump up the weekly KM's I would recommend a running assessment. We approach this with the view that running, like other sports, is a skill. Like any skill there is an efficient and an inefficient way to do things. We see so many runners with joint pain that is cleaned up in just 2-3 weeks of changing their running gait. This gets a little more technical, and we reserve it for runners who have been 'at it' for at least 6 months and we assess things like foot strike, over stride, cadence, vertical oscillation, ground reaction force, leg stiffness and much more. These variables all affect how much load you put on your body and can be used to safe guard you against injury. 

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies.

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