Walk This Way

The easiest way to get fit is by putting one foot in front of the other.

By Laurie Wertich

You don’t need an expensive gym membership or fancy equipment to get in shape. All you need to do is lace up your shoes, put one foot in front of the other, and head out the door. The bonus: while you walk your way to fitness, you’ll be enjoying fresh air and an improved mental outlook.

Walking is one of the simplest, most natural forms of exercise there is—and the best part is that you already know how to do it! Walking is a gentle, low-impact way to move your body, increase your heart rate, gain cardiovascular benefits, and ease your way into a higher level of fitness.

Walking toward Fitness

Once you’ve initiated a walking program, you can set a fitness goal. You may be walking for overall health benefits or you may have a more specific goal of losing weight or building cardiovascular fitness. Your personal goal will help determine how long and how often you need to walk. In general:

A daily 30-minute walk at “talking pace” will help you maintain general health.

Walking at a fast pace for 20 to 30 minutes three to four times a week will help build cardiovascular fitness.

Walking at a brisk pace for 45 to 60 minutes five or more days per week will promote weight loss.

Once you are comfortable with your walking program, you can vary the length and the intensity (with speed or terrain) of your walks to meet your fitness goals.

Form and Function

Although walking is simple, there are a few points to consider.

Posture. Stand tall with your shoulders back. Tighten your abdominal muscles and buttocks and fall into a natural stride.

Stride. Avoid overstriding. Take small, quick steps and allow the foot to roll through the gait pattern (rather than slapping against the ground).

Arms. Allow your arms to swing alongside your body. Avoid letting the elbows swing out to the sides like chicken wings.

Tools of the Trade

You really don’t need anything to begin walking, but some people find a few accessories helpful.

Water bottle. It’s important to stay hydrated before, during, and after your walk. Consider investing in a water bottle holster or a handheld water bottle that straps to your palm.

Pedometer. A pedometer will measure your steps and the distance you have walked. It can be a motivating tool to help you build distance.

Heart rate monitor. A heart rate monitor will help measure the intensity of the exercise. Not everyone needs a heart rate monitor, but if you are trying to build cardiovascular fitness, it can provide valuable feedback. Individuals who are recovering from health problems may benefit from the use of a heart rate monitor to prevent overdoing it.

Maintaining Momentum

Like any fitness program, walking provides benefits only if you actually do it. To stay motivated, try the following simple tips.

Make it a habit. Schedule your walk for the same time each day. Write it on your calendar and commit to it, rain or shine.

Make it social. Many women find a friend or group with whom to walk. In addition to helping you keep the commitment, this provides an opportunity for social connection with the added bonus of fitness.

Make it fun. Have the kids accompany you on bikes. Bring the dog. Listen to music. Try anything that will add a dose of fun to your walk.

Incorporate variety. Vary your route to prevent boredom and plateaus. Treat yourself to changes in scenery and terrain to keep your walks interesting.

Have a destination or goal. Use your walk as an opportunity to run an errand or to meet a friend for coffee. You’ll be reducing your carbon footprint while increasing your fitness factor.

Sign up for an event. Signing up for a fundraising walk not only will motivate you to train but will inspire you and provide an opportunity for community engagement.

Measure your progress. Consider maintaining a log of your walks. You could keep track of distance covered, time spent walking, or weight loss. Find a system that works for you.

All great journeys begin with a single step, so lace up your shoes and take the first step toward fitness. Have fun!

The benefits of walking are many:

a Improved cardiovascular fitness

a Improved mood

a Weight loss

a Reduced blood pressure

a Reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke

Getting Started

Starting a walking program is simple. All you really need is motivation and comfortable shoes. If you have had health problems or are new to exercising, you may want to consult your doctor before beginning a walking program.

Once you are ready to start, it’s as simple as taking a stroll around the neighborhood. Begin slowly and build. If you are starting from years spent on the couch, aim for 10 minutes. If you already have a strong exercise regimen, you’ll be able to walk for longer periods of time.