Top Risks of Walking, From the April 2016 Harvard Health Letter

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Physical and environmental dangers may turn a walk outside into a trip to the hospital. Hazards include gait problems, hearing impairment, distractions from electronic gadgets, and walking alone.

Walking seems harmless. It’s one of the best exercises for good health. But physical and environmental dangers may turn a walk outside into a trip to the hospital, sabotaging good intentions to stay healthy, reports the April 2016 Harvard Health Letter.

Gait and stability problems top the list of walking hazards. Those issues may cause falls, especially on uneven pavement or ground, which can result in fractures and permanent disability. Correcting the problem may be as simple as a six-week course of physical therapy or an updated eyeglasses prescription. Once outside, avoid walking on sidewalks with uneven or broken pavement. Also: “Wear a good pair of walking shoes or sneakers,” says Elissa Huber-Anderson, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “And don’t forget sunglasses. Vision plays an important part in balance, as glare can make it difficult to see oncoming traffic or changes in pavement.”

Another hazard to walking is hearing loss, which can keep walkers from detecting important sounds on city and neighborhood streets, such as oncoming traffic, bicycles, warning sirens, alarms, or even assailants. Even walkers who don't have problems with their hearing may not hear ambient sounds if they’re listening to music or podcasts too loudly. In fact, using electronic gadgets while walking, such as an mp3 player or a smartphone, may distract walkers and cause them to stop paying attention to their surroundings. That puts them at risk for environmental hazards along the path. Going for a walk alone without a way to call for help is also a risk. Best advice: Walk with a buddy, carry a smartphone, and pay attention to surroundings along the path.

Read the full-length article: "Danger-proof your walking routine"

Also in the April 2016 issue of the Harvard Health Letter:

  •     What to do when medications cause drowsiness
  •     Loading the freezer with healthier foods
  •     The latest advances in cataract surgery

The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

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Kristen Rapoza
Harvard Health Publications
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