Walking has its many benefits. From increased metabolism, to weight reduction.
But often we associate walking with added knee and joint pain, and rightfully so. Yet medical science is showing that the right kind of walking, can actually reduce this pain.
Whether it is from osteoarthritis, or inflamation, or even overuse, knees can be a big deterrent for exercise. Yet what physicians have known for a long time, can give comfort and encouragement to developing a good walking regimen: the cartilage in your knees is "like a sponge, and it gets nutrients from the compression and decompression of your body weight as you walk." Think of walking as therapy. If done the right way, it actually can help strengthen and rebuild your knees in a way. 1
Walking, is naturally a low-impact exercise. It works towards keeping you knee cartilage happy and healthy. Walking does this by adding more bloodflow from the movement and contractions.
Other benefits of low-impact walking:
- Increases flexible range-of-motion
- Strengthen's muscles around your knees. This will later lead to better walks
- With the added weight-loss, you'll also be removing some of the weight load off your knees
Try to keep your weight evenly distributed on both legs; centered 3
Yes, there are always tools and aids that assist with better walking, such as knee braces, thick soled shoes, and adjustable trekking and walking poles (the ones used for hiking, but applied to everyday walking), it is best to first start with the walking regimen itself, and slowly ease into a daily, healthy habit.
Recommendations from the CDC: Use the S.M.A.R.T. 4 exercise plan for arthritis and joint pain patients:
- Start low, go slow.
- Modify activity when arthritis symptoms increase, try to stay active.
- Activities should be “joint friendly.”
- Recognize safe places and ways to be active.
- Talk to a health professional or certified exercise specialist.
A way to start this: Think Gradual - Start slowly. Start with short, 10-minute walking spurts, 3 or 4 times a week. Then the next week, add 2-5 minutes with each segment. Also add frequency. After 6 weeks, you can be walking daily, about 30 minutes. This can be a big improvement to your exercise plan.
Start with a walk around the block, for three days this week. Then two blocks the next week. Then add the frequency the next after that. And so on. Also, start with more level surfaces, then gradually add varying terrain like hiking paths and mountain trails later.
And, of course, avoid jogging, running, and high-intensity walking, if you are suffering from knee pain. If it does occur, consider hot/cold therapy like applying ice packs after a walk. And most importantly, stretch fully before each walk. This reduces the likelihood of some injuries.
While other low impact exercise activities exist, such as swimming, and slow bicycling, walking remains the most accessible, and easiest to implement immediately, for improved knee strength and reduced pain.
Mike Cutler is an avid hiker in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and enjoys blogging about fitness, travel and hiking treks. His family lives in Reno, Nevada, and is a product tester for Earth Trek Gear.