Walk It Out

Ready to hit the road (or trail)? Here's how to make your move.

 

How can something so elemental and natural be so good for you? And yet, the simple act of walking can lift your spirits while it helps improve your physical health.  And the news is good for Weight Watchers members, too: [Brisk walking 30 minutes a day can help keep lost weight off. (Aim to keep a[steady enough pace that you can still chat easily.) And walking can be a body toner as well: Striding uphill works your calf muscles, hamstrings, and buttocks. Downhill walks are great for your thighs (quads), and on level ground, your abdominals and lower back get a workout.

Where to start

Walk anywhere you like, whether it's indoors on a treadmill or outside at the park, by the sea, or around your local neighborhood. Experiment with different routes that will challenge you with hills and varying terrains.

If you're not a regular walker, sports dietitian Helen O'Connor, PhD, suggests small increments, like parking your car farther away from your destination than you need to. Walk to work or to the next bus stop or subway station. Take the stairs. Or get off the elevator one floor early and walk that extra flight. Give yourself time to walk. Leave home a half hour earlier or take 10 extra minutes to walk to the store. Build it into your daily life and it's easy to increase how much you walk

 When you want to step it up....

Start with a half-kilometer walk, three to four times a week. If you've been inactive, 15 minutes of walking may be plenty for your first few weeks. (It's a good idea to discuss your plans with your doctor.) Then increase the frequency, aiming for a 30-to 60-minute walk each day of the week. Gradually raise your intensity level by walking on inclines, with hand weights or on wet sand.

As you build your level of fitness, steadily climb to a comfortably challenging pace. You should still be able to hold a conversation even though you're breathing a lot harder. At the end of your session, you should be tired and sweaty but not exhausted. At this workout level your body is successfully burning calories. If you prefer to walk indoors on a treadmill, get your heart pumping by varying the machine's speed and incline.

And if you want to take your walks to the next level, check out our 8-week plans for beginner through advanced walkers.

What to wear, what to carry

Comfortable clothes

Look for fabrics that draw sweat away from the skin. Wear layers, and peel them off as you warm up.

Athletic shoes

Find walking shoes that aren't overly snug, because feet swell as you walk. Cushioning under the heel and forefoot are important, as is flexibility, so the ball of your foot can move freely. It's usually worth it to be fitted at a store that specializes in athletic footwear.

Socks

Choose fibres that evaporate sweat and prevent blisters. Try double-layered or padded socks for walks on hard ground.

Fitbit or Pedometer

These handy and motivating devices measure steps taken, walking distance, calories burned, and more!

Water bottle

Drink before you start and every half hour, more often if you're sweating. Plain cool water is fine; no need to waste SmartPoints on sugary sports drinks.

Sun protection

Wear a hat, plus a layer of waterproof high-SPF sunscreen. Don't forget the back of your neck, tips of your ears, tops of feet, and lips.

Identification

Bring an ID and a few dollars, in case of an emergency.

Tunes!

Whether via a music app on your smartphone or an MP3 player, your favourites can inspire you to walk a little farther and faster.

Technique Tips

The walking step is a rolling motion.

Strike the ground with your heel, roll through, then push off with your toe. If your feet land flat, your shoes are probably too stiff.

Watch your posture.

Imagine that you have a piece of string coming up through the top of your head. This visualization will straighten you up in seconds.

Tighten your abs.

Holding in your stomach helps support your lower back and keep abdominals strong.

Swing arms naturally.

They help give you rhythm.