It seems there are few weekends which do not have some type scheduled charity walk.

Walking is one of the best exercises you can do for yourself. It is a gentle way to speed up your metabolism and if you walk for enough time, you can burn off some calories. It also is kinder to the feet, ankles, knees and hips. The hardest part is to get yourself out the door.

Research shows that physical activity is the key to a healthy lifestyle. The potential benefits to a regular walking program include lower blood pressure, a reduction in stress and arthritic pain and an improvement in circulation. However, those over 40 years of age should consider a medical check-up before beginning any exercise program.

To be able to have fun in your walking program and reach your exercise goals it is important to wear the proper shoes. After all, the feet are the gatekeepers to the lower extremities. Many individuals who take up walking programs have a tendency to over-pronate, meaning the body weight rolls off the inner arch instead of going through the entire foot and rolling off the ends of the toes.

This is an inefficient way to use your feet and can cause foot, ankle, knee hip and lower back pain. Neglected, this type of foot dysfunction can lead to structural defects. A prescribed orthotic device (insert in shoe) will redistribute your weight and help you walk more naturally.

It is important to warm up and cool down before and after exercise, and to pace yourself into a regular walking routine. It is much wiser to start off slowly and let the working muscles receive the blood flow for all out walking. Keep in mind that the hardest part is taking that first step out the door! Walking is a great prescription to a healthy lifestyle.

Dr.Robert F. Weiss is a podiatrist specializing in foot and ankle surgery. He was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials. Weiss is a veteran of 35 Marathons & has a practice in Darien, affiliated with Stamford Hospital and member of Stamford Health Medical Group-Foot & Ankle Institute, and resides in Westport.