How to Begin a Walking Program

fitness-walkingOkay so you may know the state bird is the Oriole, and the state flower is the Black-Eyed Susan, but do you know the state exercise for Maryland? Give up? It's walking! The state of Maryland was the first state in the nation to pass legislation that designated an official "state exercise" and walking was the form that was chosen.

Walking is one of the best forms of exercise to improve a whole host of health parameters. The benefits of walking are numerous - one of which being that it is by far the easiest mode of activity to start and requires no real training or expertise; as such, it is an ideal form of exercise for beginner exercisers. If you are a novice exerciser, starting a walking program can get you off on the right foot (pun intended) towards improving your overall health in the following ways:

Benefits of walking
  • Easy to do – no equipment required
  • Gentle, low-impact
  • Lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol)
  • Raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol)
  • Lowers your blood pressure
  • Reduces your risk of or manage type 2 diabetes
  • Manages your weight
  • Improves your mood

You can perform "leisure walking" for an option of recovery from more intense bouts of exercise or as your primary form of activity to help reduce overall stress. If you are looking for more of a challenge, then you can gradually ramp up the intensity to do more challenging routes during your walk or a faster pace.

Getting Ready!

It's important when you begin any new fitness program to start slow and easy, and take steps to prepare yourself and your body. As always, consult your physician before beginning any new exercise routine.

Preparation:

  • Appropriate footwear – walking shoes
  • Protective clothing for weather
  • Reflective clothing if walking near dusk/in evening
  • Watch your posture. Walk tall. Think of elongating your body.
  • Hold your head up and eyes forward.
  • Your shoulders should be down, back and relaxed.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles and buttocks and fall into a natural stride.

Get up & GO!

Once you have set yourself up with the right footwear and attire, your goal is to plan out when and where you will perform your walks. Setting a specific time each day that you plan on walking will set the stage for consistency - consider your walking workout to be an "appointment" that you make with yourself or even a friend/walking partner. Set the intention that you are going to not only make but keep your appointment each time so that you make your new fitness routine a healthy habit.

In terms of the "where", you can opt for your neighborhood, the local track or use a tool like LiveStrong.com's loops feature. Loops provides pre-set routes that you can search and find near your home/work and even allows you to create your very own routes and share them online with other exercise enthusiasts.

Now that you have your route mapped out, prepare your body for your walking workout:

Warm up
  • Spend about five minutes walking slowly to warm up your muscles. You can walk in place if you want.
  • Increase your pace until you feel warm.
Stretch
  • After warming up, stretch your muscles before walking. Include the calf stretch, quadriceps stretch, hamstring stretch and side (iliotibial) stretch.

Cool Down

  • Cool down after each walking session - To reduce stress on your heart and muscles, end each walking session by walking slowly for about five minutes. Then, repeat your stretches.

Ensuring Success

To ensure success with your walking program, be sure to set realistic goals for yourself, such as 30 minutes five days a week -- you don't need to do it all at once. Build walking into your schedule today. For example, walk for 10 minutes on your lunch break. Then add either time each day or go from walking 10 minutes at lunch 1-2 times per week to 3 times per week. Gradually increase the duration and/or the frequency as time goes on and your fitness level improves.

Another important way to stick with your program is to track your progress. Keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk and how long it takes can help you see where you started from and serve as a source of inspiration. Just think how good you'll feel when you see how many miles you've walked each week, month or year. You can track steps taken daily with a pedometer and record the numbers in a walking journal you create or using an app like Fitnio or LiveStrong’s Daily Tracker.

Sticking With It

Finally, to stick with your routine once your get underway, consider these options for maintaining your walking program:
  • Vary your route/routine to prevent monotony and boredom
  • Walk with friends
  • Find a friend with similar goals & fitness level
  • Set a time to meet for walks each day
  • Get more friends involved or join a walking club - link up with people on sites like Walker Town USA. This site was developed so that walkers all over the world could have a single location to visit and be able to locate one of the many walking clubs available. You can also visit Racewalk.com - to find and hook up with a racewalking club in your area.

HAPPY WALKING!

Be Sociable, Share!
Be Sociable, Share!