It's now time to get moving!

It's National Physical Therapy Month, which gives physical therapists an excuse to get on your case about exercise and the widespread (no pun intended) lack of fitness in our society.

They've even got a theme for the month: "Walking for Exercise - A Physical Therapist's Perspective."

Thing is, physical therapists' knowledge of the musculo-skeletal system does give them a unique perspective on health, exercise and physical fitness.

Jennifer Lesko, director of Therapeutic Associates Queen Anne Physical Therapy, points out that it's never too late to start a walking exercise regimen.

"There's an urgent need in our society to face the problem of obesity and the general lack of fitness in the entire population," Lesko said. "It's no secret that there are far too many overweight youth, adults and seniors in America for a variety of reasons.

"(I)t's vital to our national health that everyone recognize the problem and help themselves and others get on a path to a healthy lifestyle," she added. "Walking is a great way to start that process."

Walking is associated with a reduced risk of heart attack, and regular exercise decreases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. It's a great, low-impact exercise for developing and maintaining cardiovascular fitness. You can walk anywhere at any time, and your only expense is comfortable clothing and a good pair of shoes.

Everyone has a unique set of health circumstances; you should check with your physician before beginning any new exercise regimen. However, for individuals with no immediate health concerns, the walking program outlined below is a good start.

Before you start

If you answer yes to any of these questions, check with your physician before you begin any new exercise regimen.

* Do you have heart trouble?

* Do you experience chest pains or pain on your left side (neck, shoulder or arm) or breathlessness when you are physically active?

* Do you often feel faint or have dizzy spells?

* Do you have high blood pressure?

* Do you have bone or joint problems that could worsen if you are physically active?

* Are you over 50 and have not been physically active?

First steps

Start slow and easy. If you've been inactive and tire easily, it's best to walk only as far and as fast as you comfortably can, gradually building up your pace and distance.

Choose a fun and safe place to walk; there are mall-walking groups, or if you prefer the outdoors, try Discovery Park or a few circuits around Magnolia Village and the nearby playfields. The best walking surfaces are flat, firm and not too hard, such as grass, wood-chip paths, dirt paths and cinder tracks.

The United States Surgeon General's recommendation is that adults 18 or older need a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days a week to be healthy; children and teens need 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

If you cannot set aside 30 consecutive minutes in your day, then split up your time - 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there - as long as you get your 30 minutes each day.

Along the way

Knowing your resting heart rate lets you measure your initial fitness level as well as your improvement over time. Monitor your progress by recording your pulse before you walk. After you complete your walk, check and record your pulse once more.

To measure your pulse, place your index and third finger on your neck to the side of your windpipe, or place two fingers between the bone and tendon on the thumb side of your wrist. When you feel your pulse, look at your watch and count the number of pulses in 15 seconds. Multiply this number by 4 to get your heart rate per minute. A resting heart rate that is between 60 and 80 beats per minute is considered normal.

Professional assistance

Your gait - your own particular style of walking - determines the distribution of stress to the various parts of your legs and feet. Although there is no single "proper" gait, if you develop pain or discomfort while walking, a gait analysis from a physical therapist can tell you if there are any potential problems.

Many times when you begin an exercise program, you find muscles you didn't know you had; a physical therapist will be able to assess your muscle length and strength to help you reach your greatest potential with your walking program.

Walking log

Recording your walks is a great way to see how far you've progressed. Your log should include:

* miles/steps: Track your walking distance by referring to mileposts on paths or laps at the track. If you are using a pedometer, keep track of your steps.

* time: Time the duration of your walk.

* resting heart rate (RHR): Resting heart rate is generally lower in people who are physically fit. Either you can wear an electronic device that measures your heart rate, or you can periodically measure your pulse at your wrist or neck. Monitor your progress by recording your pulse before and after you walk.

* rate of perceived exertion (RPE): If you can't measure your pulse, try using a "conversational pace" to monitor your efforts during walking. For example, if you can't talk and walk at the same time, get out of breath quickly or have to stop to catch your breath, you probably are working too hard.

Therapeutic Associates Queen Anne Physical Therapy invites community members to stop in and pick up a walking log. The associates will answer any questions you might have about starting a walking program.

Once you start your walking program, you will be taking your first steps toward a healthier, fitness-filled lifestyle.[[In-content Ad]]