You might have noticed a few pounds creeping up on you this winter, or an oh-so-tired feeling everyday at around 4 pm. Perhaps you just want to get away from the house, the kids, the desk, or anything else, and into the brightening weather. The simple act of walking can take you there. The simple act of walking — by this I do not mean pacing the floor muttering “how, oh how am I going to lose weight?” I mean a regular walking program, that starts out slowly and gradually progresses in time and intensity. This type of exercise can be enjoyed by almost all individuals, almost all ages, and it can help you lose weight, improve cardiovascular health, decrease the risk of some diseases and it can even improve your mood (if reading this article alone doesn’t make you jump for joy).
First, consult your doctor to make sure it is okay to participate in a regular exercise program. Once you have your physician’s okay, you can start walking away. Get yourself a good pair of walking shoes, wear comfortable, light colored clothing (especially important if you will be walking at night or twilight) and choose a safe walking location that is relatively flat. Then begin at a comfortable pace for a total of 10 minutes. Those are two very important points, so I will repeat them — WALK AT A COMFORTABLE PACE FOR A TOTAL OF 10 MINUTES. A comfortable pace means you should be able to talk while walking, without becoming out of breath. If you had to rate your exertion on a 1 to 10 scale, you should rate it between 4 and 6. You may feel very good while walking your first ten minutes, and you may be tempted to walk for a longer distance, but it is best to stick to the 10 minutes for the first week, especially if you are not a regular exerciser. Plan to walk 4 to 5 times per week, and increase your time 5 minutes each week, so that you are walking 15 minutes the next week, followed by 20, then 25, then 30.
After your walk it is important to stretch – it will help avoid an injury to the leg muscles. Stretch slowly and hold the stretch without bouncing for the best results.
At this point you will want to consider your goals — are you walking for health benefits like lower heart rate and blood pressure, or fitness benefits like weight loss, or aerobic conditioning? If you are concentrating on the former, you can continue walking 30 minutes per day 4 to 5 times per week. Your doctor can advise you on how this workout can improve your health.
If your goals are oriented towards weight loss or aerobic conditioning, continue to increase your time by 5 minutes per week until you reach a total of 45 minutes, 4 to 5 times per week. Then you may also add hills to your workout — both up and down are important to work the quadriceps and hamstrings in your legs, as well as the gastrocnemius and soleus in your calves. You can increase the pace of your walk as well — on a scale of 1 to 10 you can exert yourself to a rating of 6 to 8. Lastly, a weighted vest and ankle weights can help you build muscle while you condition yourself cardiovascularly. A personal trainer can give you more information on how to further challenge yourself in a walking program.
As a final note, remember that if at any time you feel pain or discomfort during walking, consult your doctor. If you become truly “addicted” to the sport of walking, don’t worry — you are not alone.