The Beginner's Guide to Walking

How to get started with walking — the most natural and affordable exercise you can do.
The Beginner's Guide to Walking
Walking is fuss-free fitness. There's no cost, and it's easy to schedule. And if you do it regularly, it reduces the risk of heart disease and can help you burn fat and lose weight.

Uphill walks work 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 Walk
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.

Sports dietitian Helen O'Connor, PhD, suggests parking your car farther away from your destination than you need to. Walk to work or to the farthest 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.

How Hard and Long to Walk
Start with a half-mile 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.

What to Wear and Bring

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 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.

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

This handy device measures steps taken and walking distance.

Water Bottle
Drink before you start and every half hour, more often if you're sweating.

Sun Protection
Wear a hat, plus a layer of waterproof sunscreen with an SPF between 15 and 30.

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

Portable Music Player
Your favorite tunes can motivate 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 stomach muscles.
Holding in your stomach supports your lower back and keeps abdominals strong.

Swing arms naturally.
They help give you rhythm.

To walk faster, don't lengthen your stride.
Take shorter, quicker steps.

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