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Arthritis Today

How to Choose and Use a Treadmill

Walking on a treadmill can be an excellent workout. Learn ways to make the most of treadmill walking.

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If walking outdoors isn't a good option where you live, you might want to consider purchasing a treadmill for your home.

“Just like walking outside, using the treadmill provides an excellent workout because it increases cardiovascular endurance and improves blood flow, which, in turn, boosts circulation and decreases pain,” explains Theresa Lawrence Ford, MD, rheumatologist with the North Georgia Rheumatology Group in Atlanta. “It also helps you maintain a proper weight, which eases pain on your joints.”

When shopping for a treadmill, look for these three must-have features:

1. Side handrails. “Never use a treadmill that only has a front handrail,” says Marc Rabinoff, professor in the Human Performance and Sport department at Metropolitan State College of Denver. “Side handrails help you balance as you’re starting to walk, and give you something to grab on to if you feel like you’re going to fall.”

2. Full-sized tread belt – at least 22 inches wide and 50 inches long. “That allows a normal-sized adult a full range of motion and reduces the risk of accidentally stepping off the treadmill,” says Rabinoff.

3. Quick-stop button or pull cord. “It’s the single most important feature on a control panel,” says Rabinoff. “You need to be able to stop if you experience sudden or severe joint pain or feel faint.”

If you have the budget, a cushioned tread belt is nice to have; it can reduce the impact on knee, ankle and hip joints. Also useful is an incline option, since a slight upward incline can reduce joint impact.

Extras that you don’t need to spend on? Preprogrammed workout options and a heart rate monitor (unless your doctor advises using one).

Once you’ve purchased a treadmill, make the most of your walks with these tips:

Be prepared. Know how to work the controls before walking on a treadmill.  Become familiar with the start/stop buttons and never step on or off of the treadmill while it is running.

Put on a good pair of shoes. Always wear closed-toe, supportive walking shoes.

Do a gentle stretch. Dr. Ford suggests following the same routine you do before walking outside. (Read more stretching tips.)

Warm up and cool down. Start on a slow setting for three to five minutes and move up to a moderate pace by slowly increasing the machine’s speed. When you’re ready to cool down, reduce the speed again and walk at a slower pace for a few minutes before you ease off.

Let go. Don’t hold on to the side rails or pull yourself forward by grabbing the front bar while treadmill walking. “Poor posture, like gripping the rails to keep up with the speed of the treadmill, can cause injuries,” says Dr. Ford. Instead, reduce speed and walk naturally, just as you do when you walk outside.

Turn up the tunes. Listening to music while walking on the treadmill can improve focus, relieve stress and boost motivation. Download songs like “Walking on Sunshine” and “I Run for Life” and watch your mood improve with your fitness level.

Try interval training. Speeding up for a few minutes, then slowing down to your normal pace, boosts your metabolism. But don’t try it if you’ve just started your walking program. “Interval training is not for beginners,” Dr. Ford says. “But it can help experienced walkers burn fat more quickly.”

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