That walking trail at the local park has been calling your name since you moved into your house, and your co-workers have already told you how much they love their weekly walking group. You know the benefits and you know you'll love it if you could just get started—but you're not really sure exactly how to do that.
Walking is the perfect form of physical activity for many reasons, and the fact that it's accessible to almost everyone is at the top of our list. Whether you're just getting started or want to take your race walking to the next level, it can be a challenging activity for any fitness level when done right. But it's not just as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. To get a proper workout from walking, there are three important questions you'll want to answer before you tie up your sneakers.
Twenty minutes is a good starting goal, but it's okay to work up to that level if you're not physically ready. If you're short on time, consider breaking your walks into 10-minute segments throughout the day. As you get stronger, you can continue adding time until you get to 45 minutes. If you're no longer challenged at that point, try new routes, add hills or pick up the pace for short bursts of time to increase the intensity.
The actual speed you're walking isn't as important as how challenging the walk feels. You should be able to answer a question but not comfortably carry on a conversation to be working at a level that provides health-improving benefits. On your next walk, consider experimenting with the Talk Test as a simple way to measure the intensity of your workout.
Aim for three days per week if you're just starting out; as you get stronger, you can add another day or two for more of a challenge. Keep in mind that it's important to add variety to your walks. After about four to six weeks of doing the same walk at the same intensity, your body gets acclimated. To avoid a fitness or weight-loss plateaus, it's important to mix things up with new routes, inclines or speeds.
The Do's and Don'ts of Starting a Walking Program
DO wear the right shoes. Ideally you should purchase your walking shoes from a specialty walking store where you can be properly fitted. Specialists will be able to analyze your gait and stride to better recommend a shoe that will help your performance. Shoes typically last 400 to 600 miles, wearing out from the inside first, so be sure to replace them when the time comes.
DON'T focus on speed and distance. When starting out, it's better to celebrate the fact that you're moving. Getting faster and going longer distances will come with consistency and time.
DO understand the difference between casual walking and walking for exercise. If you can call a friend to catch up during your walk, you might not be walking fast enough to consider it a workout. If having a conversation doesn't feel uncomfortable, consider picking up the pace. Rate of Perceived Exertion is another tool that helps gauge your effort. Aim for three to five on a scale of one to 10.
DON'T do too much too soon. Motivation is typically high when you first start exercising, so it's tempting to jump in with both feet. Without pacing yourself, though, you could experience burnout or injury if you go too hard at first. Take it slow to avoid injury and give your mind and body time to adjust to the changes you're making.
When choosing a walking route, aim for something that is lightly trafficked or has sidewalks for safety. Varied terrain (such as hills for a challenge and flat portions to pick up the pace) is helpful to make it a challenge. If you’re short on time try a walk around the neighborhood, but if you want a scenic view, check out a trail at your local park.
What are you waiting for? If you're ready to do something good for yourself, it's time to lace up those sneakers and head out the door.