Walking is an exercise that can be accomplished by almost anyone. This article describes how to start a walking program.
Set your expectations reasonably. If you have been sedentary for a long period of time, you will want to start out slow and go only a short distance.
Find a good place to walk. Many times you can just walk around your block, but what do you do if the terrain is too steep, curvy, or just isn't what you're looking for? There are some easy solutions. You can go to your nearest high school; many schools allow town residents to walk the track when not being used. Take your car to a park if it's too far away to walk; parks are often flat and very peaceful.
Pick an easy first walk. Make sure that no matter how far you get from your starting point, you are able to get back there. Walking on an oval track no more than a quarter mile around should be perfect.
Pay no attention to how far you walk. It matters more that you walk for a longer period of time. Faster and farther walks will come later.
Set a time. When you first start walking, decide how many minutes you will walk. Choose a length of time you know you can make. Do not worry about how short that period is. Just keep moving until you reach it. 2-5 minutes each day is a good start. That time will increase from week to week.
Increase your time. Each walk, increase your walking time by thirty seconds to one minute until you are able to sustain a 10 minute walk. Again, do not fret if you can't go longer than the day before. Set the goal and keep at it and you will reach it faster than you think. After reaching 10 minutes, the increases may take a bit longer; however, try to increase your time by 5 minutes each week.
Work on speed and difficulty. After you are able to walk 45 minutes a day, you can work on speed and difficulty. Try moving off of the oval and onto the city streets: You will encounter hills and declines, and that will increase the difficulty of your walk.
Determine your target and maximum heart rate. See "How to Calculate Your Target Heart Rate". If you are under your target heart rate (THR), you need to increase walking speed for it to be beneficial; if you are above your THR, decrease your walking speed. Again, weight loss and aerobic health will come through sustained effort, not through increased speed or distance.
Try interval training. Walk at an increased rate for one to two minutes, then slow back to your normal rate for two minutes. Every day or two add an interval until you reach your desired total time, including rest periods. As you become more physically fit, reduce your rest periods until they are down to a minute or less.
Swing your arms as you walk.
In the beginning it is not necessary to warm up, however once you really start to put stress on your legs, you should participate in some light stretching.
Walk with a good posture. Stand completely straight, put your shoulders back, and take long strides.
Try to walk no less than 3 times per week. Walking 7 days a week for more than a few miles is too much.
On weekends or holidays, try to increase your walking time to an hour or more. On some walks, try interval training by walking much faster for 30 to 60 seconds, then going back to your normal speed.
Be sure to make notes about your walk: note your route, the weather; homes you appreciated; animals, wildlife or plant life you observed; and the thoughts and feelings you experienced. Keep them in a log along with your maximum heart rate, target heart rate, and the most time you've spent on a walk.
Try using an iPod or other MP3 player to add entertainment to the walk. Books on tape make the walk go by faster and you may want to walk longer. When doing this, however, be extra careful to look out for cars if you are walking on a street, since you may not be able to hear approaching vehicles over your audio device.
When you are able to get, and stay, on your target heart rate, you will want to cool down a bit at the end of your walk. If you have been able to stay in the target rate for 20 minutes or so, spend about 5 minutes at the end of the walk trying to bring your heart rate back to where it was pre-walk. Slowing your pace down and doing some more light stretching can accomplish this. Do not stop walking to slow your heart rate in a cool down. It defeats the purpose of a cool down.
You might find ways to incorporate walking into your daily routine if you can't find the time to go walking for the sake of it: take the stairs instead of the escalator or the lift; walk to the shops if they're close by; if you visit a friend who doesn't live too far away, leave the car at home. It's surprising how much difference it can make when you regularly climb a few flights of stairs and take frequent short walks.
Remember that we live in an age that requires little physical activity. Now that we no longer toil in the fields or even (in most cases) factories, the avoidance of physical effort is not a gain, it's a loss. We should take advantage of all the small opportunities we can use to keep our bodies in shape, such as using the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
Many people recognize the local mall as an excellent place to walk for exercise -- safe, fun and climate-controlled.
Walking may cause cramps. If a cramp occurs, place your hands on your head and begin breathing through your nose and out your mouth at a slow steady rate. Be sure to bring a water bottle with you.
If you drive, park your car a block or two away from where you live, that way you have to walk to or coming back.
Wear comfortable clothing and sturdy, supportive athletic shoes.
Walking is a very good stress management technique in addition to being good exercise. If you practice active abdominal breathing during each step, you will benefit even more.
Learn how to race walk. It burns more calories, works more muscles and has better cardiovascular benefits. See sites like www.racewalk.com or www.racewalkclinic.com
Before undertaking this or any other exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor, especially if you haven't been physically active in more than 6 months.
Be prepared for your walk. Take water with you. Also take along a whistle in case you get into trouble with dogs or unsavory people. Carrying a cell phone is also a good idea.
If you are walking and become short of breath, slow down or stop. Ask for help if you need it.
Don't carry weights with you as you walk. This extra weight throws your gait out of balance.
Be sure to wear proper footwear. Sandals, flip-flops, and even fashion athletics do not support the various muscles, tendons, and joints in your foot and can therefore cause strain and injury.
Although using an mp3 player or radio can make your walk more interesting, it also makes it difficult to hear things around you, including potential hazards such as oncoming traffic, would-be attackers, and animals. If you like to listen to music or books while you walk, keep the volume moderate and be aware of your surroundings.
Wear white clothing and reflective fabrics if you will be walking at night. Don't assume that drivers are paying attention or that they can see you after dark.
Things You'll Need
A water bottle - Drink water during walks of ten minutes or more whether you feel thirsty or not. (Yes, this applies to cold weather and warm weather.) Dehydration can lead to dizziness, blackouts, and even death.
Good, comfortable walking shoes or sneakers and thick socks. If you have thin socks you may get blisters.
A cellphone for emergencies.
A whistle to call for help should you run into trouble of the criminal type.
A hat and sunblock on sunny days.
An mp3 or cd player so you can listen to music while walking.