May 18, 2011

How to Start a Fitness Walking Program

It’s Easier Than You May Think!

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve decided, or are close to deciding, to start a fitness walking program. You’ll find it’s both an enjoyable and hugely beneficial world you’re about to enter.

First and foremost, get your doctor’s approval to start fitness walking. Particularly if you’ve been a bit of a couch potato all winter, or have any health problems, it’s wise to secure your physician’s approval before starting any fitness regime.

Hopefully you’ve read our last blog on finding the right walking shoe and are now prepared to lace them up. Some other things you might want to bring with you while walking are a cell phone for emergencies, a hat, sunglasses and sun block, a water bottle (always good to hydrate), and your CD or mp3 player to listen to music.

Now my personal style is not to over-think a project like this.

So, for your first couple of walking session, let’s keep it simple with these three suggestions: (1) Dress appropriately. If it’s chilly outside, it’s better to have a sweatshirt and take it off later than to be cold. (2) For your first few outings, keep the walk short until you see what your endurance level is. Ten minutes is perfectly fine to start with. (3) And most important, have fun! Committed walkers usually start for health reasons, but continue because they find walking calming, spiritually revitalizing, and/or a chance to quietly commune with nature.

On these first few walks, focus on time, not speed or distance. For example, it’s better to start with a gentle ten-minute walk three days a week, then expand to 15 minutes next week and 20 the following week (or up your time as you feel appropriate based on your own ability). You will gradually want to increase both your speed and the distance you walk, but in the beginning, just concentrate on time. Once you’ve worked up to 45 minutes, then work on speed and difficulty, such as adding steeper hills, varying terrains, etc.

A good rule of thumb is to start walking three times a week with the idea of eventually moving to five times a week. At the same time, each week you want to add at least five minutes to your walking time. However, do remember that 10 minutes of easy walking is better than zero minutes. The early goal is just to get moving.

Plot your walking course. I prefer the park for its seasonal beauty and because there aren’t any cars to distract me. A quiet street is fine, particularly if there are sidewalks, but I find if you need to stay alert for oncoming traffic, it robs you of the joy of enjoying nature.

The kind of surface you’re walking on also matters. Concrete, gravel, sand and mall floors have different challenges and benefits. See what works best for you.

I would advise having three established walking courses. One being a “fast” track for the days you’re pressed for time and want to squeeze in a healthy walk; a mall walk for when the weather is annoying; and then a favorite “scenic” route through the park where you can really breathe in the serenity and beauty of nature. Having a few choices on your walking routes wards off boredom and lame excuses.

What is the best time of day to walk for you?
Some people like to do it first thing in the morning (and then come home, shower and dress for the day) while others like a nice walk after dinner.

Sneaking in a walk during your lunch hour is another good way to keep your routine going. Walking is a great stress management technique and you’ll return to work revitalized.

Finally, think about whether you like to walk alone or with someone. As a busy professional with a full and blessed family life, I confess I treasure my time walking alone. It helps me pound out the stress of the day and reflect on life. Of course, this certainly doesn’t preclude walking with my wife or kids on occasion. On the other hand, for many people a “walking buddy” can be a great source of disciple, inspiration and enjoyment.

In our next blog, we’ll talk about stepping up your walking program, the delights of using a pedometer, and the pros and cons of walking with your dog. Until then, enjoy your walk!

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