Walk Your Way to Fitness
A regular walking workout can benefit your overall health. Find out why fitness walking is so important and how you can get started.
Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD
If you’re like most people, you walk just under three miles every day in the course of your normal activities. Now it’s time to get a little more purposeful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the Surgeon General all agree that at least 30 minutes of brisk physical exercise is good for your health, and walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise to get.
Some of the many benefits of a regular walking workout include:
· Cardiovascular health. Fitness walking strengthens your heart, improves your circulation, and lowers your blood pressure. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine evaluated 73,743 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study and found that women who walked briskly 2.5 hours every week reduced their chance of heart disease by 30 percent.
· Bone health. As a weight-bearing exercise, walking can stop some of the bone loss of osteoporosis and may slow down arthritis.
· Weight loss. A regular walking workout burns calories. If you walk 4 miles four times a week, you can walk off about a half-pound of fat every month. Weight loss combined with a healthy diet can also decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes.
· Mental health. Studies show that fitness walking reduces stress and improves your overall sense of emotional well-being. A regular walking workout can help you enjoy deeper, more restful sleep, which may decrease your risk for anxiety and depression.
How to Start Your Walking Workout
The speed and distance of your walking workout are not as important as the time you spend walking at a brisk pace. If you have any health issues talk to your doctor first and find out what is a safe pace for you. Start gradually and walk only as far and as long as is comfortable. Follow these fitness walking guidelines:
· Work up to at least 30 minutes of brisk walking a day.
· Warm up by walking at your normal pace for about 5 minutes and then pick up the pace for about 15 minutes.
· While you walk, swing your arms and maintain good posture.
· Take long strides, but don't strain yourself.
· Slow down at the end of your walk and do some gentle stretching.
Every week you should try to add about 5 more minutes to the brisk part of your walking workout until you can get it to over 30 minutes.
Keeping Up the Pace
Once you have decided to start walking for fitness, it's important to stick with it. The benefits of your walking workout take place and are maintained only over time. Here are some tips to keep you going:
· Wear comfortable shoes. One sure way to lose interest in your walking workout is having sore feet. Take some time to get the right shoes. Your walking shoes need to fit your foot and the type of arch you have. Remember that your feet change over time. As you get older you may need more padding, more support, and more room, so have your feet measured regularly. It’s best to get your feet measured at the end of the day when your feet are larger; try on shoes with the socks you would wear for walking; and walk around for a while in the store before you buy.
· Cultivate companionship. Walking with somebody else is safer, less boring, and more motivating. Many communities have walking groups you can join or you could start your own group. Walking with a friend or partner, taking along your dog, and making your walking workout a time you look forward to can help you stick with it.
· Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is an important part of a walking workout. Remember that you lose water through sweat even in cooler weather and that you don't start to feel thirsty until you’re already starting to become dehydrated. Drink about two cups of water before you start and another cup about every 15 minutes. Don't wait until you get thirsty.
· Count the miles. Setting goals and keeping track of your progress can be a good motivator. You can set weight loss goals or mileage goals. Use a pedometer to measure the number of steps you take during your walking workout and keep track of your progress.