Getting started with a walking or running plan
There’s never been a better time to start walking.
You’ve heard of cabin fever, of people unable to leave home for whatever reason. But until recently it’s been a fuzzy concept, like why a tomato is a fruit instead of a vegetable.
Today, in our stay-at-home world, those tales of the cabin fevered going over the edge are ringing a little too true.
They don’t need to. True, there may be a lot of things you can’t do: go to the mall, to a restaurant, to a ballgame. But there is one big exemption to North Carolina’s stay-at-home order: exercise. And one of the most effective forms of exercise is also one of the easiest to start: walking.
Walking as few as 30 minutes a day, five days a week has been shown to yield significant health benefits, including lowering your stress level and improving your mood. Among walking’s other benefits:
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- Lower fasting blood sugar (which contributes to lowering your chances of type 2 diabetes)
- Improved memory and cognitive function
- Extended life expectancy
A walking exercise program is relatively easy to launch. You don’t need pricey equipment. A comfy, supportive pair of shoes will do.
You don’t need to travel anywhere to do it. Most people can find a suitable route out their front door.
And unless you have mobility issues, you can start immediately (though if you have circulatory, respiratory, or weight issues, check with your doctor before getting started).
Our advice for taking your first steps:
Start slow. Start at a pace that feels good to you. If you find yourself laboring to breathe or sweating profusely, dial it back. You’re doing this for your health, sure, but you’re also out to have fun.
Start short. While 30 minutes a day is the recommended minimum, you don’t have to start with 30 minutes. If you can only walk 10 or 15 minutes initially, great — at least you’re out and getting started. You’ll build up.
Seek flat terrain. Psychologically, you’ll feel so much better if you can boast to yourself “I walked a whole mile!” as opposed to “I climbed three blocks and it kicked my butt!”
Avoid the heat of the day. One way to torpedo a walking program is to head out mid-afternoon, during the hottest time of the day. Walk in the morning, when it’s cool and crisp. Or try walking in the evening, when the temperature is dropping and you can enjoy the late-day light.
Find a safe walking route. This can be a challenge if you live in a neighborhood without sidewalks. But with the growth of greenways and natural surface walking paths, odds are pretty good that if you take a close look around your neighborhood, you can find a safe place to hike. Ideally, find a place where you are separated by some sort of barrier from traffic.
Find a pleasant walking route. Your walk is all the more enjoyable you’re distracted by something to look: a flower garden, say, or a stream.
Pick up the pace. Starting slow and short is fine, provided you gradually increase your pace. A study published in 2017 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that a faster pace — in the 2.5- to 3-miles-per-hour range (roughly 100 steps per minute) — was more effective at lowering BMI (Body Mass Index) and waist circumference than longer walks at a slower pace.
Keep at it. Spring is the perfect time to start a walking program. It’s pretty easy to head out the door when it’s 60 degrees and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Stick with it, and by the time summer rolls around, your walk will become routine. (Some say a habit can form in as little as 21 days, while others claim the magic number is 66.)
Here’s more incentive. By reducing the health risks mentioned above, you’ll boost your immune system.
Hypertension, obesity, and diabetes are all conditions that can be managed in part by walking.
Not to mention your sanity.