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10 Bits of Bad Walking Advice that Could Send You to the Hospital

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Updated September 04, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Everyone thinks they know how to walk and how walkers should train for long walks. But their advice may be dangerously off the mark. It may be outdated or it may apply to other sports, but not to walking. Take the bits of advice below with a grain of salt.

1. Drink, Drink, Drink

Aquaclip
Wendy Bumgardner © 2006

This is an old piece of advice that can be extremely dangerous, leading to water overload and hyponatremia (dilution of salts in your body) on an endurance walk such as a half marathon or marathon.  Hyponatremia can produce heart arrhythmias and has resulted in deaths at marathons. As of 2006, the current advice for distance walkers and runners is "Let thirst be your guide," and drinking when thirsty rather than forcing water at every opportunity. For those training for a distance event, use one day of training to weigh yourself before, during, and after your long walk.  If you are getting your hydration right, your weight will remain constant.  If you gain weight, you are drinking too much.
Drinking Guidelines for Walkers

2. You Don't Need Sports Drinks

Powdered Gatorade
Wendy Bumgardner ©

Many walkers avoid sports drinks for many reasons. They don't like the taste. They want to reduce calories. It may upset their stomachs. But sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade contain salts and sugars that are needed when walking for over an hour, especially in sweaty weather. These ingredients also help your body absorb the water faster to prevent dehydration. The International Marathon Medical Director's Association recommends using undiluted sports drink for hydration after the first 30 minutes of exercise. Otherwise, you risk dehydration and/or hyponatremia.

3. You Don't Need to Eat Before Walking

Oatmeal
Wendy Bumgardner ©

Some people have a theory that if you start on empty, your body will burn even more calories and/or fat.  But often you will find that you can't exercise as intensely if your body is already out of fuel, so the net effect is that you go easier or stop sooner and burn fewer total calories. Walkers may have metabolic syndrome or undiagnosed diabetes.  Exercising without having had a light breakfast could upset their blood sugar levels enough to result in a medical emergency. As a walking event director, I have seen this happen, with a walker fainting on the trail during the first mile.
What to Eat Before a Morning Walk

4. You Don't Need to Train; It's Just a Walk

walking friends
Wendy Bumgardner

I've seen many people finish a short 5K charity walk in a lot of pain. I've seen relay walkers hobbling around for days with blisters after two relatively short relay legs of under six miles each. They didn't train for speed or for distance and then got caught up in the excitement and walked too fast with poor form to keep up with the other racers. Often they just have shin splints or blisters. But in the worst cases, they get a stress fracture or plantar fasciitis and need medical care.
How Far Can You Walk Without Training?

5. Just Walk as Far and as Fast as You Can

Steps Across America Finish
Sportline Steps Across America © 2006 used with permission

When training for a walking event, walkers may think they can cram any practice into the last couple of weeks before the event.  After all, it's just walking, right?  Walking is an endurance exercise. As with any exercise, you should increase your time, distance, and intensity gradually.  This will help prevent stress fractures and plantar fasciitis. Training gradually has almost magical effects in increasing your endurance, stamina, and walking ease. Doing too much too soon can end your dreams of a half marathon or marathon this year.
10K Walk Training Schedule for Beginners

6. Wear These Weights to Burn More Calories

H20 at Hand
Wendy Bumgardner (c) 2005

Nature didn't design us with 5-pound feet and 3-pound wrists. Adding extra weight at these points increases the stress on your ankles, shins, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, neck and back. Not in a good way, but in a way that can give you repetitive strain injuries, poor walking posture, and lasting aches and pains. The right way to burn more calories while walking is to walk further and to walk faster so you can walk further in the same amount of time. There is one tool that I recommend to increase your calorie burn and workout while walking, and that is a set of fitness walking poles. Just say no to anything that adds weight to your feet, hands or wrists.
Before You Buy Walking Weights

7. Just Wear Your Old Shoes

shoes
Wendy Bumgardner ©

As athletic shoes age, they lose their cushioning and support. Going out for a long walk with old, dead shoes can lead to shin splints, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, and stress fractures. I last had plantar fasciitis after wearing an old pair of shoes on a muddy walk through the tulip fields. I kept my good shoes clean, but I spent six weeks in pain with reduced walking.
When to Replace Your Walking Shoes

8. Trust This Map

Google Map Pedometer
Wendy Bumgardner - Screen Shot of Google Map
I love maps. But when it comes to safety, I rely on what I see in reality rather than on a map. No map is perfect, and printed maps traditionally include intentional errors (traps) to allow them to find unauthorized copies. Don't walk off a cliff following a map, GPS, or walking directions. Use your eyes and judgment and look both ways before crossing a busy road. It's only your life at stake.
Woman Sues Google Maps Over Walking Directions

9. Wear New Shoes

New shoe
Wendy Bumgardner ©
Every pair of shoes needs a break-in period where you wear them for a few shorter walks before taking them on a longer walk. Even when wearing the exact same model, there are small differences that can lead to aches and pains, blisters and black toenails if you wear them on a long walk before breaking them in. The worst case scenario is wearing a new pair of shoes on a half marathon or marathon without a break-in period. The new shoes may be the last straw leading to a stress fracture, muscle tear or other major problem during the event.
The Month Before Your Long Walk

10. Don't Worry, Fluffy Loves Everybody

Dogs
Wendy Bumgardner ©

Petting a stranger's dog as you meet along the walking path is always a risk. An uninvited touch may result in a bite. Even if the dog's human companion says it is OK to pet the dog, proceed with caution. I've seen many encounters go badly, and you may end up needing stitches. It is even more difficult to know how to deal with an excited dog running off leash without the owner in sight.
Tips to Avoid a Dog Attack

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