Walking is one of our fundamental human skills, yet why do so many of us fail to walk more than to and from our car? How often do we drive around a parking lot looking for the closest spot to the store, or take the elevator instead of the stairs? As infants, we try walk as soon as we are capable of supporting ourselves in an upright position. It’s innate. As adults, we seem to find ways of avoiding walking despite the fact that it is one of the most beneficial and basic forms of exercise.
There are many benefits to be gained from walking:
- Improves overall fitness
- Clears your head and lifts your mood
- Reduces blood sugar levels
- Strengthens core muscles
- Strengthens arms, shoulders, legs and hips
- Improves stability
- Lowers resting heart rate
- Boosts energy
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Assists with weight management
- Lessens risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- Boosts metabolism
- Increases bone density
- Decreases joint impact
- Improves sleep quality
Starting a Walking Program
If you have been sedentary or near sedentary for a long time, then it’s best to start gradually. I have often seen it happen where people exercise beyond their current fitness levels. They get stiff and sore after their workout and, consequently decide that exercise is not for them. At the beginning of your program, it’s not as important that you walk briskly and for long periods, but how frequently. First of all, if you’ve been sedentary, you’re likely to experience some muscle tenderness if you try to take on touch too much too soon. Secondly, it is more effective to exercise frequently for shorter sessions than to try to squeeze in one or two long walks within a couple of days and then be idle again for a few days. It’s a fact that it takes only 72 hours for the beneficial physical adaptions to your body to start to reverse. So, it is not advised to take long days of rest in between exercising.
Where to Walk?
So you’ve made the decision to start walking. Good for you! Now, you need to decide where you want to walk. If you like the outdoors, there might be some nice trails, or streets in your community. If braving the elements, whether hot, cold, wet, or dry, is not your ideal environment, there might be some shopping malls in your area that will allow walkers. Perhaps you have a treadmill at home already. If not, there is always the option of going to a fitness centre.
Here are some pros and cons to each:
Your First Goal
The minimum recommended amount of physical activity is 150 minutes per week of moderate activity. You might not, yet have the physical conditioning to accomplish that, so your goal when starting a walking program should be to progressively build up to 150 minutes. By walking on a schedule that best suits your lifestyle and current fitness level, you are more likely to stick with it. Find your motivation, and an inspiration to spur you on.
When beginning your walking program, it’s Ok if you can only go for 5 or 10 minutes. Maybe, you can go longer. Everybody is different. The point is that it’s a start. If you have a busy, hectic schedule, you could aim for a 15-minute walk in the morning and the evening, or one 30-minute walk, on 5 days of the week. You would accomplish your 150 minute goal and you still can have two days for rest.
I’ve Been Idle… How to Begin a Walking Program
It’s understandable that once you have made the decision to start walking that you would be eager to get going and reap the benefits from your new activity. A gradual progression is a safe and effective way to develop your walking program. By increasing your training by 10% each week, it allows time to adapt physiologically.
How do you measure a safe 10% progression?
There is an easy way to do this. It’s based on a point system and intensity. Let me explain. Intensity, or Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a scale of how hard you are working. If you are home, sitting on the couch, your RPE would be 1. If you are walking briskly up a hill, are sweating a bit and are able to speak with a some difficulty, then your RPE would be 6 or 7.
Here’s how the point system works: Let’s say that you walk for 20 minutes, 4 days of the week, at a RPE of 3, then your score for the week would be 240 points. 20 mins. X 4 days X 3 RPE
The next week you would increase your points by 10% or to approximately 265 points. So, you could walk for 20 minutes, 2 days of the week, at a RPE of 3 and 12 minutes, 3 days at RPE of 4, or any other combination of duration, frequency and intensity that brings you close to 265 points.
A Final Thought…
Walking should be enjoyable. Whether you choose to go alone for the sake of solitude or walk with a friend for a little social outing, do it because it is a gift to your longevity. Remember that walking should be as natural to us as breathing. Skip the elevator, park at the other end of the parking lot, and mostly, be joyful that you can walk.
I’d love to read your experiences and comments. Please feel free to leave a comment below.