Starting Your Walking Program

Starting a walking program is easy; all you need is a good pair of shoes, comfortable clothing and the desire to get healthy.

How to start: Start out slow, this might just mean a 10 minute walk out your front door and back again. That’s not much. Do this every day for a week, then add 5 minutes to your walk the next week. Keep adding 5 minutes each week until you are walking for 25 minutes or more each time you walk.

Watch your posture. Think of “Walking Tall”! Elongate your body, keep your head up and eyes forward. Your shoulders should be down and back in a relaxed posture. Tighten your abdominal muscles and buttocks and fall into a natural stride.

Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after walking. Don’t forget to warm up, stretch and cool down as part of your routine. Start your walk at a slow warm up pace, stop and do some stretches then walk for the desired length of time. At the end of your work-out walk at a slower pace to cool down or recover and don’t forget to stretch again. Stretching will make you feel great and help in preventing injuries. Remember never stretch a cold muscle.

The toughest part of a fitness program is developing a habit. Walking daily will help, try for at least 5 times a week. You should walk fast enough for your breath to be elevated but not to the point that you are gasping for breath. If you can sing, you are not working hard enough, if you can’t answer a question without gasping you are working too hard.

If you are walking for general health benefits try to walk 30 minutes a day most days of the week, at a talking pace, this means your breathing is elevated but you can still carry on a conversation.

To improve cardiovascular fitness you should walk 3 to 4 times a week, 20 to 30 minutes at a very fast pace. Again, at this pace you should be breathing hard but not gasping for air.

If you are walking for weight loss you should walk a minimum of 5 days a week, 45 to 60 minutes at a brisk pace.

Once you can comfortably walk for 30 to 60 minutes, 5 to 6 days a week you may want to put more speed into your routine. I’ll talk about how to “pump” up your walk in the next installment.

How Active Are You?

If you are not getting enough physical activity each day, it is difficult to lose weight, and even more difficult to keep it off. Do you know how your average daily physical activity, measured in steps, factors into your weight management efforts?

Managing a healthy weight is about balancing energy. A calorie is a unit of energy. When we eat, we consume calories that provide our body with energy to do everything from breathing to walking. Physical activity boosts the calorie burning process. So, the more we move the more we burn. To achieve optimal health benefits and a healthy weight, shoot for a daily dose of activity that will rate as moderately to very active. There’s no magic number, but as your daily number of steps increase, so does the health benefits. Most Americans average only about 4,000 to 6,000 steps a day.

Less than 5,000/Inactive
5,000 – 7,499/Slightly active
7,500 – 9,999/Moderately active
10,000 – 12,499/Active
12,500 or more/Very active

Check the table out to help you set your goal: You will need a pedometer to help you identify how many steps you normally take in a day and to help you slowly increase the number of steps to reach your goal.

No matter how active you are now, small changes will get you where you want to go. Increasing your daily activity at a faster or slower rate isn’t as important as simply moving more today than you did yesterday. So get started today on a healthier you!

Sources: America On the Move, Steps to a Healthier Way of Life
Beginning a Fitness Walking Program – The Walking Site

Compiled and edited by Janice M. Beckage, R.N., BSN, M.Ed., Coor. of Health Education/Staff Nurse