Starting a Walking Program: Ease on Down That Road

Are you thinking of starting a walking program? Whether you are new to exercise or just coming back from an injury or other event that stopped your physical activity, a slow-and-steady program and safety are two things to consider.

EASE On Down That Road. That means, start slowly. If a walking program is new to you, work with a personal trainer or your physician to map out a reasonable program. If getting started on your own, first of all, pat yourself on the back for just making the choice to live a healthier life. But you don’t want to overdue it in the beginning because your body will start to ache as those muscles wake up, and you don’t want to take a week off to recover and lose your motivation. Start by walking every other day for 30-40 minutes. Break up over the day, if it’s more convenient – walk for 15-20 minutes two times a day. Slowly work yourself up to a comfortable and steady pace, one in which you feel your heart pumping, but you can still maintain a conversation.

If you have reached a point where you can walk at a quick, steady pace for at least 45 minutes, and want to increase your intensity, try:

1. Adding another day or two of walking to your schedule.

2. Adding hills or inclines – you can do this indoors on a treadmill or outdoors, if you are lucky enough to live somewhere hilly.

3. Increasing speed in intervals – start by increasing your speed for one minute, then returning to previous pace for four minutes; then speed up for two, slow down for three; and, so on. Do this for a 20-40 minute segment of your walk.

4. Adding fitness intervals – just like a speed interval, but instead of speed, add movements such as raising knees up or raising arms up and down overhead for one-minute intervals. For the more advanced, try dropping and giving me 20 pushups!

The Right Stuff. Safety is key in any exercise program, but I would almost say more important with a walking program. This is usually because many of us don’t “think twice” about walking – we do it every day, right? But when we are grocery shopping, we don’t often think about our posture, our shoes or how long we plan on walking. For some just re-entering a walking program, excitement (aka endorphins) may fool us into thinking we can go longer than our body is really ready for.

The shoes you wear are more important than most people think. A good pair of tennis shoes will support your feet and your body weight, making you more comfortable when walking. They will also dictate how the rest of your body responds to your walk: whether your lower back begins to hurt, whether your feet start to ache, whether your tight quadriceps muscles pull on your kneecaps. I suggest finding a specialty running shoe store and asking them to test your gait (walking stride). Some will watch you walk in stocking feet; others have machines that you walk on or that take pictures of you walking and can tell you if your feet turn out, turn in, or roll one direction or the other. They can then make some recommendations to you about whether you need a shoe with extra stability, cushion or other type of support. You may then thank the kind person and go to your computer or local discount store to find a less expensive version, if cost is a concern. Two things to note: you can walk in running shoes, but you can’t run in walking shoes; and NEVER compromise on your shoes, because you are compromising on your whole body.

If you are new to a walking program or are under a doctor’s supervision, a heart rate monitor can be a useful part of your program. There are many types with many features – you’ll basically want something that has a timer and is easy to read and use. When shopping for one, ask yourself what you might want from it in the long run: a stopwatch for timing intervals? Something that shows calories burned? Consider these and other features when deciding how much to spend on a heart rate monitor.

A pedometer, which usually sits on or near your hip and counts your steps based on movement, can help you set – and conquer– small goals in your walking program. The Surgeon General of the United States recommends we take 10,000 steps a day. They’ve become quite popular – attend a couple of community wellness events and you’ll likely get a free one!

I’m Walkin’, Yes Indeed-y. Use MapMyWalk.com to find new walking routes to keep your program interesting, or map your own and keep a record of your distance. You can also check out your local Parks Web sites for paved or dirt walking/hiking trails or a simple Google search walking routes in your town. In Washington State, try the Washington Trails Association or the State Department of Transportation.

Take to your feet my friend, and remember, baby steps leads to a lifetime of better health.

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