Walking is one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to lose weight, stay active and live a healthier lifestyle. All it takes are comfortable clothes, a pair of comfy walking shoes and shoes and the intent to take that step towards better health.
Most people underestimate the benefits of walking because it often requires little effort to accomplish. Yet studies have shown that regular walking can help prevent and manage several chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancers. Further, the Mayo Clinic says that regular walking also helps in maintaining a healthy weight, improves balance and posture, strengthens bones and helps improve mood.
Here are some general guidelines to help you start a walking routine. Always check with your physician before starting any exercise program.
Before Your Walk
Choose the right shoes.
The Mayo Clinic recommends wearing comfortable walking shoes that provide adequate arch support with a firm heel. It should also feature thick flexible soles so as to cushion the feet and help absorb the shock as your feet hits the pavement.
Wear the right clothes.
Choose comfortable and lose fitting garments that give you unrestricted movement. If you’re walking to work, you can wear your usual work clothes and a comfortable pair of shoes. Wear bright clothes or reflective tape to increase your visibility if you’re walking at night.
Setting Your Goals
Set realistic, achievable goals.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate walking each day. If you cannot set aside that much time, distribute your allotted time for walking throughout the day. For instance, try doing two 15-minute or three 10-minute sessions throughout the day.
Don’t feel that you have to push yourself immediately. It’s all right to start slowly, especially if you’re just starting or haven’t been exercising regularly. You may start with five minutes a day in the first week and increase your time by another five minutes each week until you reach 30 minutes.
Set a consistent routine.
Try to walk everyday or at least five times a week. Setting a consistent routine helps you to be on track with your goal.
Starting a Walking Routine
Walking as an exercise requires specific elements in order to be considered a complete workout. Following these elements also help reduce injury and helps make walking easier.
These elements include:
Warming up raises your body’s temperature, increases the blood flow to your muscles, and prepares your body for more intense exercise. Walking slowly for five to ten minutes is generally a good way to warm up.
These exercises should be part of your warm up. Do flexibility exercises after your five to ten minute easy walk.
☻ Arm circles: Hold your arms straight out at your side, parallel to the ground. Slowly rotate your arms backwards, making small circles that gradually grows larger and larger. Rest for 3 seconds and repeat the action using a forward direction.
☻ Twist: Stand with your feet apart. Hold your arms straight out, parallel to the ground. Swing your arms from side to side whilst keeping your lower body immobile. Do this several times to loosen your hips, back and shoulders.
☻ Overhead reach: Stand with feet apart. Reach up your right arm and then reach back to the other side. You can use your left arm to apply a little pressure by holding by the elbow and lightly pressing down. Keep your hips and shoulders straight. Hold for 10 seconds then relax. Do the same with the other side. Do this 5 to 10 times.
☻ Toe Point: Stand on one foot. Lift your other leg and gently point your toes. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Relax then flex your foot, toes pointing up. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Do the same for the other foot. Repeat 5 to 10 times for each.
☻ Ankle circles: Stand on one foot and gently lift the other leg. Point your toes then rotate your ankles clockwise. Do this for 10 counts then reverse with a counter clockwise movement. Repeat the same action for the other leg. Do this 5 to 10 times for each leg.
You’re now ready to complete your walk at your normal pace. Your walk should be a moderate-intensity aerobic activity in order to reap its health benefits. This means you should be walking fast enough to elevate your breathing, increase your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to know if you’re doing this correctly is if you can talk but can’t sing the words of your favorite song.
Turning your normal gait into a fitness stride entails proper posture and purposeful movement. A proper fitness stride, according to the Mayo Clinic, has your head up, eyes looking forward and not at the ground. The neck, shoulders and back ought to be relaxed with your arms swinging freely with a slight bend in the elbows. The muscles in your tummy must be tightened but keep your back straight. Finally, your walk should be smooth by rolling your foot from heel to toe.
Cooling down is similar to warming up–you generally continue your workout at a slower pace and lower intensity. It lets your body reach its normal heart at a gradual pace. You can do this by walking slowly for five to ten minutes.
Stretching is just as important as the workout itself. According to the Mayo Clinic, Stretching increases your range of motion about your joints, increases your flexibility and boosts your circulation. Take some time after your walk to stretch.
Keeping Your Motivation Up
Make walking a habit.
It takes initiative to start an exercise routine, but it takes commitment to stick with it. The easiest way to stick with your walking exercise routine is to make it a habit. Make walking a part of your daily routine, such as
☻ Walking to shops instead of taking the car;
☻ Walking part of the way to work;
☻ Using the stairs instead of the lift;
☻ Walking your kids to school
☻ Taking a stroll with family or friends after dinner.
Add variety to your walks.
Take a different route every once in a while. You’ll be surprised at what your town or city can offer.
Make your walks enjoyable.
Some people enjoy solitary walks, while others enjoy walking with a friend or a companion. Join a health club or a walking group if groups will keep you motivated.
Don’t give up if you’ve skipped a day or two.
Remind yourself of how good it felt when you’ve included walking in your daily routine. You can always get back on track even if you’ve missed a few days.