Walking is a terrific exercise program for beginners because it is so easy to regulate your speed to keep your workout in a heart-rate zone that is safe and effective. It requires no athletic skill, no gear beyond a good pair of shoes, and unless you have an injury or disability, anyone can do it. Walking is also the queen of weight-bearing exercises, and helps your body continue to produce new bone tissue.
As always, before you begin a new exercise program, check with your doctor first. As long as you're cleared for exercise, walking for weight loss is a great place to start. These tips will help you create a walking fitness plan that fits within your abilities and helps you lose weight.
1. Begin slowly. Even though walking is as natural as breathing, you still need to give your body time to adapt to the increased demands you're putting on it. So don't begin your walking program with a 10-mile hike. If you've been inactive for several years, I recommend beginning with as little as 15 minutes walking per day, five or six days per week.
2. Note your starting point. Can you sustain 15 minutes of continuous walking without becoming overly tired or sore the next day? If not, dial it back to 10 minutes per day. If 15 minutes is comfortable, keep up that level for a week before you try to increase your time.
3. Find the right pace. There is no right speed to walk--there is only a right speed for you. The pace that's right for you is the pace you can sustain for 15 minutes at a time, gradually building up to 30 minutes. You should be breathing deeply, but not out of breath or gasping for air. You should be able to talk, but not sing.
4. Chart a course. When you're just getting started, the time you spend walking is more important than the distance you cover, but it can be comforting to know where you're going and fun to track where you've been. One of my favorite tools is GMap Pedometer. Whether you're at home, at your in-laws, on a business trip or on vacation, you can use this application to map a route using Google maps.
5. Challenge yourself, but be smart about it. If your goal is weight loss, you want to build up to walking at least 30 minutes and preferably 60 minutes per day, at least five or six days per week. But don't expect to get there within a week or two. Plan to increase the time you spend walking by about 10% per week, and you'll continue to progress without risking overuse injury and fatigue. (That means it will take you about 3 months to build up from 15 minutes per day to 30 minutes per day.)
6. Track your progress. It doesn't matter whether you're chasing fitness goals, financial goals or personal goals; tracking your progress makes you more likely to hit your target. Keeping a log of your workouts gives you concrete proof that you're doing what you set out to do, and that you're making steady progress toward your goal. (Check out this article for more tips on how to get and stay motivated to exercise.)
7. Think tortoise, not hare. You remember the story of the tortoise and the hare. The slow and steady tortoise beats the speedy hare who gets distracted and loses sight of his goal. Walking is a very moderate exercise program, and you're not going to lose 10 pounds a week. But if you combine regular, moderate walking with a healthy diet, you are developing the lifestyle habits that will help you lose weight over time and keep it off for good.
If you're a beginning exerciser or a deconditioned Baby Boomer or Senior, walking is the easiest exercise to get you on your way to losing weight. It's easy to integrate into your daily routine, and for most people it's a really painless way to increase your activity level.
(photo credit: Ken Russell, GWSA)