Can you really walk your way to fitness? You bet! For most people, walking is a safe, easy, and a no-cost way to be fit. Ready to reap the benefits of walking? Here’s how to get started and stay motivated.
Keep It Simple
Physical activity does not need to be complicated. Something as simple as a daily brisk walk can help you live a healthier life. Research shows that regular, brisk walking has these benefits: improves circulation and helps heart and lungs work more efficiently, increases endurance and boosts energy, strengthens your bones to give some protection against osteoporosis, eases tension and stress to lift your mood, improves balance and coordination, and helps maintain a healthy weight.
Pick Gear for Success
As you start your walking routine, choose shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel, and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock. Shoe wear-and-tear varies from person to person but expect to replace your walking shoes about every six months.
If you walk outdoors when it is dark, wear clothing with bright colors and reflective tape for visibility.
Choose your course carefully. If you will be walking outdoors, avoid paths with cracked sidewalks, potholes, low-hanging limbs, or uneven turf. If it is dark, walk in well-lit areas.
Warm Up and Cool Down
Walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for physical activity. At the end of your walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to help your muscles cool down. After you cool down, gently stretch your muscles. Stretching the Achilles tendon should be part of your cool down to prevent foot problems. If you would rather stretch before you walk, remember to warm up first. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after walking.
These tips will help you with your walking technique:
- Your head is erect and you’re looking forward, not at the ground.
- Your neck, shoulders and back are relaxed.
- Swinging your arms freely with a slight bend in your elbows.
- Your stomach muscles are slightly tightened and your back is straight, not arched forward or backward.
- You’re walking smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe. Your toes should point straight ahead.
Make a Goal
For most healthy adults, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, preferably spread throughout the week, and strength training exercises at least twice a week.
If you can’t set aside 30 minutes, try two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions throughout the day. Remember, it’s okay to start slowly — especially if you haven’t been exercising regularly. Increase your time by five minutes each week until you reach at least 30 minutes, the amount of time it takes to have real fitness benefits.
If you are walking for the general health benefits try to walk 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, at a “talking” pace. To improve cardiovascular fitness walk 3 to 4 days a week, 20 to 30 minutes at a very fast pace. At this pace, you are breathing hard but not gasping for air. If you are walking for weight loss, you should walk a minimum of five days a week, 45 to 60 minutes at a brisk pace. Once you can comfortably walk for 30 to 60 minutes 5 to 6 days a week you may want to put more speed into your routine.
The “talk test” can help you find the right pace. You should be able to carry on a conversation while walking. If you are too breathless to talk, you’re going too fast. When walking, should you develop dizziness, pain, nausea, or other unusual symptoms, slow down or stop. If the problem continues, see your doctor before walking again.
Keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk, and how long it takes can help you see where you started from and serve as a source of inspiration. Just think how good you’ll feel when you see how many miles you’ve walked each week, month, or year.
Record these numbers in a walking journal or log them in a spreadsheet or a physical activity app. Another option is to use an electronic device — such as a pedometer — to calculate steps and distance.
Starting a walking program takes initiative. Sticking with it takes commitment! Start with a simple goal, such as, “I’ll take a 10-minute walk during my lunch break.” When your 10-minute walk becomes a habit, set a new goal, such as, “I’ll walk for 20 minutes after work.” Soon you could be reaching for goals that once seemed impossible.
Get a Partner
If you don’t enjoy solitary walks, ask a friend or neighbor to join you. Friends bring us laughter, support, and fun — they’re among life’s greatest gifts.
Change It Up & Don’t Give Up
If you walk outdoors, plan several different routes for variety. If you’re walking alone, be sure to tell someone which route you’re taking.
If you find yourself skipping your daily walks, don’t give up. Remind yourself how good you feel when you include physical activity in your daily routine — and then get back on track.
Small Steps, to Accomplishing Goals
If you’re new to walking, start off with slow, short sessions, and build your way up gradually. If you have any health concerns or medical conditions, be sure to check with your doctor for advice before you begin a routine.
Once you take that first step, you’re on the way to an important destination — better health. The toughest thing about starting a fitness program is developing a habit. Regularity is the key. Fitness is like sunshine; it cannot be stored.
- Mayo Clinic, mayoclinic.org
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, health.gov/our-work/physical-activity