Walking seems like a foolproof method of exercise -- until you lose your balance and end up with scraped knees and some seriously wounded pride. After you stand up and dust yourself off, you might want to think about improving your balance overall. By putting a few safeguards into place, not only will you stay upright during your walk, you might also score some extra health benefits from your well-balanced jaunt around the block.
Invest in a good pair of walking shoes. Well-fitted walking shoes with plenty of arch and side support can help you maintain better balance while walking. Just avoid walking around in those toning shoes you've seen on TV -- the American Council on Exercise warns they can actually increase your chance of injury by causing a loss of balance.
Plan your walking route to include smooth, well-maintained surfaces. Sure, you might love a hike through the forest, but uneven walking surfaces can cause a loss of balance and you might twist your ankle or other joints. Instead, look for scenic trails that are evenly paved -- most cities have tons of options.
Check your walking posture. Without perfect posture, you might not be giving your joints the support they need to keep your balance in check. When walking, your head should remain high -- almost as if a string were tied to the top of your head and pulling it upward. Your shoulders should be relaxed, with your shoulder blades pushed back. If you have trouble remembering, try this tip: Your ears, shoulders and hips should form a straight line when walking.
Practice balance exercises as part of your regular workout or even as part of your walking warm up, suggests the Cleveland Clinic. Better balance when walking won't happen overnight. Before you start walking, try standing on one leg. Once you've mastered that, practice squatting while on one leg. Do these exercises with a wall or other support nearby. Or, try a classic runner's lunge, which can help you stretch and test your balance at the same time.
Walk with a walking stick. No, it's not a cane. A walking stick is a thin stick with a pointed bottom that helps you balance yourself better on uneven surfaces. According to the book, "Preventing Falls: A Defensive Approach," a walking stick helps promote good balance by encouraging you to stand up straight and lean into the stick.
- American Council on Exercise: Will Toning Shoes Really Give You a Better Body?
- Preventing Falls: A Defensive Approach: Thomas J. Hutton
- Cleveland Clinic: Daily Balancing Acts
- If you constantly lose your balance while walking, see your doctor. A loss of balance, especially if it's a sudden development, could indicate a neurological disorder or an inner ear problem, for example.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.