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Spring in North Carolina is the perfect time to go for a walk. After the long winter, naturally we are drawn to the outdoors to enjoy the warm weather, fresh air and beautiful scenery.

Walking is one of the simplest and best exercises there is. For those of us who are able-bodied it’s easy — just put one foot in front of the other.

Walking is free, it doesn’t require any equipment, and you can do it anywhere. Our bodies are made to walk. And most of us enjoy walking, once we get going.

There are so many great reasons to walk. Walking helps prevent or improve type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. It makes your bones, muscles and joints stronger. It’s great for our brain health too — helping improve memory and thinking, reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s, and helps prevent or improve depression. Becoming more fit also increases your energy and stamina.

Walking can also be a major boon for weight loss. In fact, power walking (along with healthier eating) helped me lose 60 pounds, which led me to where I am today.

Here are some tips to help you get started with a walking program.

As with any exercise, if you have risk factors be sure to check with your health care professional before beginning a new program to ensure that it’s appropriate for you.

Strategies for success

Set a doable goal. Decide how much time you are willing to commit to daily walking. Keep it realistic to start so that you can be successful with completing your goal.

Create a plan — and stick to it. Determine what time of day works well for you. Then, schedule that time in your calendar and set a reminder or alarm on your phone.

Keep a log of your workouts so that you can review your progress and results visually over time. A tracking app such as MapMyWalk or MyFitnessPal makes this easy, or you can use a notebook.

Find a good place to walk. Scout out safe routes ahead of time. There are so many options for walking! You could walk around your neighborhood, use the track or athletic field at a school, go on trails or visit a park. Indoors could include a treadmill at the gym, or walking at the mall. Many malls are open to walkers in the mornings before store hours.

Wear a good pair of athletic shoes. This is one of the most important things you can do for your fitness walking routine. Only wear shoes that are comfortable and supportive. Never use sandals or flip flops for this.

Get a fitness tracker. While this is optional, many people find it motivating to try to hit their daily steps goal, especially if they are just getting started with walking. Even an old-school pedometer will do the job. People who track their steps take an average of 2,500 more steps each day. About 2,000 steps equal one mile.

[Read: Lose weight and get fit for less with Blue365]

Be sure to warm up. It’s important to prepare your body for exercise, to help you have a better workout and most importantly to prevent injuries such as plantar-fasciitis and knee and hip issues. Start off with a 5-minute warm up of stretches followed by slower walking, and then cool down at the end of your workout as well. See my “Essential Stretches for Walkers and Runners.”

Walk every day if possible. We want to create a habit of daily exercise.

 

It’s fine to start small and then build up slowly. If you’re not currently exercising, easing into it can make working out more doable, and will also help you remain injury-free.

I started with 15 minutes a day, and added to that each week until I eventually got to 60 minutes. But any amount you do, no matter how small, is better than nothing.

Ideally, aim for at least 30 minutes a day. Under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines, adults are encouraged to participate in 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise every week. That can easily be accomplished as 30 minutes of walking, five times a week.

Create a backup plan. If you normally walk outdoors, have an alternative for inclement weather. Indoor walking options include using a treadmill, walking at the mall, or even around your house.

Vary your speed and intensity. This isn’t necessary when you are first starting a program. But once you have established a routine, in order to progress your level of fitness and to kick your metabolism into a higher gear you’ll need to challenge yourself.

My favorite way to do this is with interval walking — alternating fast walking with moderate or slower paces throughout the course of a workout. (For more on techniques, see my online workshop, “How to Walk Off the Weight.”)

Vary your terrain. Walking uphill activates three times more muscle fibers than walking on a flat surface. It also burns up to 60% more calories.

[Read: Does heart rate matter for your workout?]

Music can motivate you and help set your pace — but use it safely. Listening to music while walking is known to improve mood, motivation and performance. However, keep the volume low. If you are outdoors and choose to use earbuds do so in one ear only. Don’t use headphones that cover your ears or earbuds that block outside noise. It’s very important for your safety that you can always hear your surroundings.

Find a walking buddy. Walking with someone can make the time fly by, and it’s great motivation knowing that someone is waiting for you. Ask a friend, family member or coworker to join you. Dogs make excellent walking partners, too. Walking your fur baby is a great way to get your daily steps in, and you’ll both benefit.

Fit movement in throughout your day. Short spurts of walking add up. Take a 5 or 10 minute walk break at work. Park farther away from your job or shopping destination. Take the stairs rather than the elevator.

Keep it interesting and fun. Doing the same thing everyday can get boring after a while. Vary your locations. Take this time to explore new areas such as parks and trails. Even zoos, museums and festivals are great places to get a considerable amount of steps in.

Above all, don’t give up!

This really is the secret to success: Keep going. Consistency is key. If you don’t give up this time around, you’ll eventually get to your goal. Remember to increase your time and/or intensity incrementally each week. Be patient but persistent. You can do it. You got this. Now get out there, and go!

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle Rogers, CPT

About Michelle Rogers, CPT

Michelle Rogers is a Certified Personal Trainer who specializes in healthy living for adults over 40. She leads classes and workshops online at Reachable Fitness, her virtual exercise studio. Find out more at www.michellerogers.fitness and connect on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @MRhealthyliving. Michelle is a Blue Cross NC member and is compensated for this blog post.