Spring is an excellent time to start a walking program. After a sedentary winter, walking is the perfect way to get off the couch and start burning calories, toning muscles, and feeling great about yourself.
Although it's tempting to charge outside and go for a gung-ho walk on the first day of your walking program, it's better to start slowly and increase your effort over time, says Sara Donovan, founder of WalkSport, a national walking program, and author of the book Mall Walking Madness.
If you have been physically inactive for some time, you need to be careful not to overdo it. Remember to consult with your physician before starting a new exercise regimen to make sure it's right for you.
It takes about a month to establish a fitness habit, Donovan says. That's why she advises new walkers to follow this four-week get-started plan:
Week 1: Start small — walk 10 minutes a day for seven days. "That helps you get into the habit of doing it on a daily basis," says Donovan. Walk comfortably, and enjoy yourself — your job this week is to start building a walking habit, not to walk a marathon distance. Focus on your posture: Walk tall and hold in your tummy.
Week 2: Walk 15 minutes a day, everyday. This week, focus on taking a stride that is a comfortable length. Push off with your back foot, and roll from heel to toe as your foot lands on the ground.
Week 3: Walk 20 or 25 minutes a day. Be creative about scheduling workouts — take two shorter walks if that's more convenient than one longer walk. This week, put some push into your pace. Start with five minutes of comfortable walking. Then, mid-walk, strive for shorter, quicker steps. Slow down if you're out of breath — you should be able to talk while you walk. End your walk with a 5-minute cool-down of slow, comfortable walking and then some stretches, such as the shin stretch (while standing on one foot, trace circles in the air with the toe of your other foot, then switch) and the hamstring stretch (put your foot on a chair or bench and slowly lean over that leg to stretch the back of the thigh; switch legs).
Week 4: Increase to your goal of 30 minutes a day. Get your arms involved — bend them at a 90-degree angle at the elbows and pump them gently as you walk. Every few minutes, speed up your pace for 20 quick steps, and then slow back down. (This is called interval training.)
After four weeks, your walking habit should be firmly established. Keep walking every day for at least 30 minutes. If you need some motivation to get yourself out the door each day, try Donovan's surefire motivation tips:
- Walk with a friend or your dog if you have one
- Use a pedometer, fitness tracker or smartphone app to measure your steps, distance, and calories burned.
- Give yourself non-food rewards (entertainment, books, a fun pair of socks) for every successful week of walking.