Since walking simply involves putting one foot in front of the other, thinking about how you are going to walk for fitness may sound a bit silly. But if you’ve ever hesitated to put on your sneakers and head out the door, you may already realize that a walking routine that doesn’t take your personal preferences, limitations and daily life into account isn’t one you’re likely to keep up.
You don’t need a trainer to create a walking program that will give you the exercise you need (although consulting one may be useful if you have specific goals in mind, or you are not seeing the results you hoped for). Keep these three key elements in mind as you plan your outings…
- Aim for at least 20 minutes of vigorous walking each day for optimal aerobic benefits; 30 minutes or more for weight loss and fitness.
- Extend your time if you are keeping a more moderate pace.
- Switch up your terrain to challenge different muscles.
…and use the below strategies to help you conquer common obstacles that may be affecting your desire get walking. Remember: The best plan is the one that you’ll come back to again and again, and you’re the expert in that department.
I don’t look forward to walking.
Solution: Walk with a friend.
Walking with someone else can have a variety of benefits, not the least of which is helping you recast your exercise session as a catch-up with a pal. The purpose of your walk may now seem to be chatting about what’s new, but that doesn’t mean that the exercise benefits are any less. Though concrete meet-up plans are helpful at first, you may find that your friendly walks soon turn into a tradition you hate to miss. You can also use this time to talk with a loved one on the phone; just use a headset for comfort, and be on alert when crossing busy streets.
I get bored when I walk.
Solution: Blaze a new trail.
Traversing the same neighborhood every day can certainly get dull. Turn to your computer or smartphone: Dozens of web- and GPS-based applications, like MapMyWalk, can help you find new walking routes; map them out yourself or select from suggested options. Things may suddenly seem more interesting when there’s more than the same-old to see along the way, and different paths may challenge your body in new ways.
I’m short on time.
Solution: Try interval walking.
Interval walking—alternating between walking that taxes you and is a bit easier—can deliver fast results for those who can’t carve out time for a long stroll. New exercisers who did just three, 20-minute interval workouts a week improved their fitness and sped their metabolism in just two weeks, according to a study from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Their workout recipe: After a 3-minute warm-up, they alternated 1 minute of faster effort with 75 seconds of easy recovery. Start with a few repetitions, and then increase them as you grow stronger. Walking hills is an easy way to work this in, since the inclines prompt you to push harder, while declines give you more of a break.
Aches and pains stop me mid-walk.
Solution: Trouble-shoot your routine.
Since it is a low-impact activity, walking rarely causes injuries. But if you do experience discomfort when you head out, some routine modifications may help: Get blood flowing and your muscles loose by starting with at least three to five minutes of easy walking before you really challenge yourself; slowly elevate your heart rate by gradually picking up the pace. (Though studies haven’t proven that stretching reduces injury rates, many walkers swear by a pre-workout stretch, too.) Maintain good form, always wear supportive athletic shoes, and increase your total walking amount by no more than 10 percent per week. Sore shins are very common when starting out, but they should pass with time if you avoid doing too much, too soon. Strength training (particularly your lower half) at least once or twice a week can also help ward off aches by conditioning your muscles for use.