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Walking is a great, low-impact exercise that has a variety of health benefits. It can be a gateway exercise that can ease you into a higher level of fitness and health, and it's something that accessible to just about everyone.

Walking can help lower blood pressure, manage weight, lower bad cholesterol levels and raise good cholesterol levels. It can also improve mood and increase energy levels. And, research shows brisk walking can reduce the risk of heart attack every bit as much as more vigorous exercising, such as jogging.

Walking is less likely to lead to injuries when compared to running or other higher-impact exercises, but it's still important to prepare yourself well before beginning each walk in order to prevent injury.

Why is it important to stretch?

Muscles, like other tissues in our bodies need to be well circulated. We spend much of our day in the same position, which overuses and fatigues our muscles, making them short and tight. This causes us to form adhesions and unnecessary connective tissue, decreasing circulation and flexibility and increasing aches and pains, and the risk of tendonitis.

Typical muscle groups affected by lack of movement are lower and upper back, neck, forearms and hips and pelvis. Stationary postures and repetitive movements lead to decreased blood circulation, weak and tense muscles and more. Muscles may even start forming trigger points, which is a hyperirritable spot in the skeletal muscle associated with palpable nodules in taut bands of muscle fibers.

What is the solution to these aches, pains and even possible injuries resulting from sustained postures? Stretching. Stretching reduces muscle tension, increases range of motion, increases blood circulation, increases energy levels and decreases the risk of injury.

Why stretch during exercising?

If you begin walking, running or other forms of exercise without stretching, your tight, fatigued muscles will be less capable of performing the skills and movement required. And, lack of flexibility is the root cause or major contributing factor of many injuries. Stretching is the solution to this lack of flexibility. Stretching loosens you up. It also prevents injury by aiding faster recovery and decreasing soreness. Stretching also ensures muscles and tendons are in good working order so they can better handle the stress of your sport or exercise.

A 2007 study by the American College of Sports Medicine found that regular stretching may enhance performance, making people stronger and increasing their endurance. Study author Arnold Nelson, an associate professor of kinesiology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said the study found regular stretching does much more than just increase range of motion. It was found that stretching keeps people flexible, improves posture and allows some to avoid injuries and other aches and pains.

Nelson and other experts say people should aim to stretch all major muscle groups at least once a day, few times per week, at times such as after exercising. The study found that those in the stretching program improved their flexibility, increasing by an average 18 percent the distance they could reach. They also increased strength with greater performance on weight machines, and muscular endurance.