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Start Walking and Change Your Health

Author: Massage Heights
3 People Hiking up a Hill In the Woods

Is it really possible to walk your way to better fitness? Yes! And, you can start today.

Know the benefits

Physical activity doesn't always mean you have to hit the gym for an hour. Getting in your healthy daily movement can be as simple as taking a brisk walk.

For example, consistent walking at a medium pace can help:

  • Shed body fat or maintain a comfortable weight

  • Take a proactive step in managing or preventing, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

  • Increase cardiovascular health

  • Increase strength in muscles and bones

  • Raise endurance

  • Enhance energy throughout the day

  • Promote a good mood, cognitive function, and better quality sleep

  • Advance your coordination and balance

  • Fortify your immune system

  • Decrease tension and stress

The quicker, and more frequently you walk for a longer distance, the more benefits you will experience. If you begin as an average-paced walker, increase your speed, and walk a mile in a shorter amount of time than before, you will see even greater benefits than from your original pace.

You can also turn walking into a type of interval training by rotating time spent between brisk walking and slower walking. This type of walking can lead to a higher calorie burn than regular walking and typically takes less time than going for a regular walk.

Consider your technique

When turning your normal walk into a stride meant for fitness, make sure your posture allows you to make strong and intentional movements. In an ideal state your stride will include these elements:

  • Your head will look forward and up. It will not be tilted down toward the ground.

  • Your shoulders, back, and neck will not be stiff but feel relaxed.

  • Your arms will swing freely with slightly bent elbows and with light pumping if you choose.

  • Your core will remain engaged to prevent any arching in your back.

  • Your stride will roll from your heel up to your toe to create a smooth step.

Plan your routine

As you start your walking routine, remember to:

  • Choose the right shoes and clothing. Pick footwear with arch support, a sturdy heel, and soles that will cushion your feet but that are flexible enough to walk on hills and different terrain.
    Wear looser clothing and wear layers when it’s cooler outside. If it’s warm or you anticipate working up a sweat, wear moisture-wicking fabric. If you take your walks in the evening or at night choose reflective clothing as well as brighter colors so that you’re visible to others. If you will be outside walking in the sun, apply sunscreen, and consider a hat and sunglasses.
    It can also be helpful to bring a fitness tracker to record hour steps!

  • Pick your path. If you'll be walking outdoors, avoid paths with potholes, or low-hanging trees that will make it difficult to maintain your derided pace.
    If the weather is undesirable, consider an indoor track or walking in a mall with designated hours for walkers.

  • Don’t forget to warm up. Take a slow 5-10 minute period to warm up your limbs and get your body ready to move.

  • Plan a cool-down period. Once the main part of your walk is over, walk slowly again for a short period of time to help your muscles relax

  • Stretch. After your cool-down period, take a few moments to lightly stretch to further help your muscles relax and recover from activity.

Set Your Sights On Realistic Goals

For the majority of healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services provides these guidelines for exercise:

  • Aerobic activity. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of more intense aerobic activity during the week, or make time for a combination of both moderate and vigorous exercise. While larger amounts of exercise will provide increased health benefits, it is still beneficial to make time for small amounts of physical activity as your schedule allows. Additionally, being active during short time periods throughout the day can help you achieve your goals for total minutes spent exercising during the week.

  • Strength training. Schedule time to perform strength training movements for your major muscle groups a minimum of two times a week. Aim for completing a single set of each exercise, using an appropriately heavy weight to stimulate and challenge your muscles at 12 to 15 repetitions.

For a more general goal: aim for at least 30 minutes of intentional movement a day. If you are unable to commit to that much time, try several short periods of activity during the course of the day. It’s always beneficial to perform a small amount of physical activity during the day if you can’t dedicate a large block of time to exercise.

Remember, if it’s helpful to start slowly, you can always build up the intensity of your exercise over time. A simple way to do this is to start with a few minutes a day and build up to 30 minutes over the course of a few weeks.

To gain increased health benefits, try to build up to 60 minutes of activity for the majority of the days throughout the week.

Track your progress

It can be helpful to record how many steps you take each day, the distance those steps cover, and how much time it takes so you can get a gauge of the progress you’ve made since you started. It can be inspirational to look at the number of miles you've walked over time.

If you’d rather not write down every walk you take, use an activity tracker, pedometer, or app to keep track of your steps and distance.

Stay consistent

Taking the first step in a walking program requires initiative, and continuing it requires commitment.

  • Set yourself up for success. Start with a goal that doesn’t feel unachievable, "I'll take a short walk during my lunch break." When the short walk becomes a comfortable habit, reevaluate your goal and increase it, "I'll walk for 15-20 minutes in the evening"
    Try to schedule specific, realistic times for walks during your day. Soon, you may find that the step goals you thought were impossible are actually quite achievable.

  • Make walking a fun experience. If you prefer to walk with someone, ask a loved one, friend, or even a neighbor to come with you. If you enjoy group settings, look for health clubs or walking groups in your community. If you like walking alone, listen to music, audiobooks, or a podcast to engage your mind.

  • Don't keep the same routine. If you walk outdoors, take different streets and routes around neighborhoods you’re comfortable in. Look for parks or outdoor walking tracks nearby. To challenge yourself looks for routes that include hills or steps. Remember that if you walk alone it’s important to tell someone where you are and to walk in well-lit areas.

  • Don’t worry about missing a day. If you fall out of your walking routine, don’t give up! Remember that it feels good to move and start again at a small goal to get yourself back on track.

Once you take your first step to more walking, you're on a beneficial journey that will lead to improved health.