Everybody walks. From the time we’re less than a year old, we’re taking steps. But did you know that walking is one of the safest and easiest forms of exercise? And, it’s good for your health.
“A good first step toward being more fit and healthy is working a daily walk into your routine,” says TNB Fitness founder Natasha Weddle. “It can start with simple things like parking your car farther from the door of the grocery store or mall or taking a 15-minute walk after dinner.”
Upping your walking game can add cardiovascular exercise to your lifestyle, which is especially good for heart, joint and muscle health. Just be sure to check with your physician before you begin any exercise program to ensure you have no underlying conditions that might preclude exercise.
Walking for exercise is more than a stroll. “Be mindful when you’re walking, and use a steady pace,” Weddle says. “You want to increase your heart rate to reap the benefits of sustained movement, but you don’t want to feel like you’re straining or out of breath.”
People often put off exercising because they think it’s a large commitment of time, and if they don’t have time, they just don’t do it at all.
“Start slowly, increase your movement every day and build up your time,” Weddle advises. “If you’re a couch potato, just a little bit is a good start. As little as 15 minutes a day can boost your life expectancy by up to three years.”
If you’re not very active, she recommends beginning with just five or 10 minutes several times a week. “Make a commitment to walk just three days each week, trying to set up a routine you can live with. Maybe it’s a walk around your neighborhood after work each day or going to a nearby school and walking on the track,” she says. “Whatever you do, make it appealing.”
Each week, add another five minutes a day to your walking habit. After you’ve reached 30 minutes three days a week, add a fourth day.
Consider finding a walking buddy so that when one of you is thinking of skipping a day, the other can provide motivation.
Once you’ve improved your fitness level, a shorter, less frequent routine two or three days a week will help you maintain it.
“But don’t overlook another important aspect of fitness: strength training and consistent movement throughout a full range of motion,” Weddle says. “Both will help with your overall health and help you deal with the possibility of arthritis, bone density issues and osteoporosis.”
As people age, they naturally lose bone mass. “By rounding out your fitness program with gentle stretching and work with weights, you’re helping delay the aging process and keeping your body fitter.”
Mobility work is a good part of any routine, but it’s probably the most overlooked because people get into a hurry.
“Warming up before any exercise — walking, strength training or playing a sport — can help prepare your body for exercise,” she says. “A warmup can be five minutes of moving your body plus a little gentle jogging in place, just enough to let your body know you’re changing your pace.”
Walking requires no equipment except good walking shoes, so it’s an ideal way to get your body moving.
“It’s the easiest form of exercise because it’s low-impact, it increases your heart rate and gets you moving,” Weddle says. “The first steps are the hardest, but by the time spring rolls around, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier and fitter you.”
“A personal trainer, someone with good credentials, can really help you get off to the right start,” Weddle says. “They can show you how to use the equipment properly and ensure that you’re using proper form. The cost of a trainer can go a long way to helping reduce your risk of injury and developing the workout routine that’s right for you.”
Good health doesn’t happen by accident. “Yes, it takes time and discipline,” Weddle says, “but when you consider the life-long benefits, doing a little bit now and doing it consistently will have far-reaching benefits.”