Walking can help you live and stay active longer with less pain – as long as you do it the right way. Distracted walking can have the opposite effects such as sudden and serious injury, resulting in long-term pain and recovery.

First, let’s look at the positive aspects of walking.

You probably already know that many medical experts recommend walking 10,000 steps at a moderate pace to improve your overall health. This walking prescription gave rise to the sale of pedometers and Fitbits as people count their steps each day. It also helped many people lose weight, lower cholesterol, reduce stress, and rollback health from the brink of diabetes.

Now, researchers have discovered walking can keep the pain of osteoarthritis at bay.

They studied 1,788 people who had osteoarthritis in their knees or who were at risk of developing the condition. Researchers found that people in the group who walked 6,000 steps a day had better movement two years after the study when their results were compared to the movement of the participants who didn’t walk. The findings also showed that an additional 1,000 steps a day decreased the risk of restricted movement by 16 to 18 percent.

For most people, 6,000 steps are equal to approximately two miles. But even a mile can feel daunting to someone who sits most of the day.

If you don’t want to suffer the pain of osteoarthritis, you should walk this way.

  • Start slowly; the first week try to aim for just 1,000 steps. If you live in the city, it’s the equivalent of four blocks. The next week add another 500 to 1,000 steps. Continue to add 500 to 1,000 steps each week until you reach your goal of 6,000. For most people, it takes 60 to 90 minutes to, walk three miles. It’s a good investment in yourself. Walking a total of one hour a day can help you stay active longer.
  • Wear well-fitting shoes while you walk. Shoes that don’t fit correctly can cause foot pain, knee pain, and hip pain. If you know you have flat feet or high arches, choose shoes that offer the best support for your foot type. If you are not sure, talk to an orthopedic foot specialist, a podiatrist, or a certified podorthist, a person who specializes in proper shoe fit. Have them examine your feet and recommend the best type of shoe for your foot.

A foot assessment and knowing what to look for when you buy shoes can prevent foot and leg pain.

Of course, if you have a pre-existing health condition, you should talk to your primary care provider before you start any exercise program.

If you experience pain or shortness of breath while walking, contact your healthcare provider for a physical and advice on a walking routine.

No one should walk this way.

Have you ever experienced this situation?

You’re driving. You stop at an intersection and suddenly out of the corner of your eye you notice a young man walking across the street. He doesn’t look to see if there is a car coming.

You know he doesn’t look, because you watch him saunter in front of your vehicle, head down, eyes on the phone, oblivious to his surroundings.

Distracted walking has become so prevalent in the last 20 years, that healthcare facilities now have a coded diagnosis for it.

According to a 2015 study commissioned by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), people believe distracted walking is something they can do without risking injury.

But their perceptions are false; the numbers don’t add up.

The nationwide study sampled data from 2,500 people, 500 of whom lived in our nation’s largest cities.

More than three-quarters of the adults surveyed believed distracting walking was a serious problem, yet only 29 percent believed they were distracted when they walked. But when asked other questions about their behavior while walking, it is obvious that they are walking under false pretenses.

  • 37 percent admit to walking while talking on the phone
  • 75 percent engaged in conversations
  • 34 percent listened to music
  • 28 percent used a smartphone
  • 38 percent felt like they zoned out

One thousand of the 2,500 people participating in the study said they saw someone get hurt because they were multitasking instead of paying attention while walking. More than a fourth of the participants, themselves, had experienced injury.

Is making the most of our time causing injury?

Multitasking seems to be the blame for distracted walking.

Since the Walkman made music portable, people have donned their tennis shoes and headphones before hitting the pavement, the track, or the trail. Listening to music or books on tape while walking has become commonplace.

Today, you can stream music or watch your favorite television show while you walk.

With tight schedules, many walkers believe that walking while listening to educational material or watching “how-to” videos on smartphones make their exercise time twice as productive.

Sadly, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported traffic crashes involving distracted walkers took the lives of 4,200 people in 2010, that number increased to 6,000 in 2017.

The study concluded distracted walkers responded 18 percent slower than non-distracted walkers. They were also four times more likely to ignore traffic signals or to fail to look both ways before crossing the street.

Walk this way and set an example.

Whether you walk near traffic or in the woods, you need to be alert to the people, animals, and objects around you. Here are a few tips to keep you safer.

  1. If you wear headphones, take one earbud out or turn down the volume so you can hear cars, bikes or other people approaching.
  2. If you’re making a call, stop while you have your conversation. Make sure you move out of the flow of traffic.
  3. When crossing a busy street, put the phone down, obey the lights, and use the crosswalks.
  4. Don’t text while walking. Looking down interferes with your stride and prevents you from noticing curbs and other obstacles in your way.
  5. Put your phone away when approaching escalators or steps. Stay focused to avoid injury.
  6. When you’re walking in the dark, wear reflective clothing. If you use your phone, use it as a flashlight. Keep an eye on the traffic; drivers may not see you.

Staying aware of your surroundings, no matter where you walk will help you avoid painful injuries.