Beginning a walking fitness program requires little more than a good pair of fitness walking shoes, your time and your commitment. Once you understand the basics of fitness walking, it won't be long before you begin to enjoy the benefits including weight loss and improved muscle tone.
Benefits of Walking
One of the best benefits of walking is its accessibility: you don't have to join a gym or invest in expensive equipment, it can be done indoors or out and at almost any fitness level. Walking is also easy on your joints, gets your heart pumping and helps strengthen your core muscles by forcing you to stand up straight. The more you walk, the more you strengthen your heart and improve your lung capacity. And it's no surprise that we're often advised to take a long walk when we're faced with challenges: walking is an effective stress reliever.
Things to Consider Before you Begin
Before you begin your walking program, you'll want to consider your fitness goals and how to measure them. For example, if you're walking for weight loss, you may want to track your heart rate or be able to estimate the number of calories you're burning on your walk. This is especially important for people who are just beginning a fitness program or have been instructed by their doctors to keep their heart rate below a certain level or within a certain range. A heart rate monitor can help you keep tabs on how hard you're pushing yourself and some models also estimate the numbers of calories you burn during a walk.
A pedometer will track how far you've walked and for those who like to set goals by the numbers, this tool can help you stay motivated and accountable to the goals you've set. If you haven't clocked the mileage of your walking route or like to walk different routes regularly, a pedometer will show the difference between what you think is two miles and how far two miles actually is.
Fitness Walking Shoes
Everyone who takes up fitness walking should invest in quality footwear. It may sound silly-after all, you're just going for a walk, right?-but like any form of exercise, the repetitive motion takes a toll on your body, so you want to be sure you're supporting your feet. Be sure you understand what kind of support you need, especially if you have weak arches or over- or under-pronate when you walk. If you don't know what you need, visit your local footwear or sporting goods store and work with the clerks to determine what kind of walking shoe is best for you and your gait.
If you're just beginning a fitness program, start slow with a goal of walking for 20 minutes. Before you begin, take a few minutes to warm up your muscles with some light stretching, paying special attention to your hamstrings.
Walk at a pace that gets your heart pumping and you're breathing hard, but not so hard that you can't comfortably carry on a conversation. Aim to walk for 20 minutes five to seven days a week and end each walk with more light stretching and rehydrating your body with a glass or two of water.
Step It Up
When you're comfortably walking 20 minutes at a time, you'll want to start challenging yourself and, in the process, work your way up to walking for 40 to 60 minutes at a time, especially if you're walking as part of a weight loss program.
If you walk outdoors, you'll also want to begin varying your route to include hills or other naturally challenging terrain. Bike paths, hiking trails or hilly neighborhoods are all good choices. To challenge yourself further, pump your arms as you walk or carry light hand weights. You'll ratchet up the intensity of your walking program and increase the number of calories you burn as a result of working at higher heart rate.
Advanced Walking Techniques
If you see that your heart rate is not getting up high enough, you can add in sprints in intervals, bringing your walk up to a jog or run for short stints just long enough to raise your heart rate level, then slow back down into a walk. If you want to get more muscle toning from the experience, add in some lunge-walking, where you bring your front leg forward until you sink into a lunge, then repeat on the other side.
If you injure yourself (you may feel warning pains in your knees, ankles, or hip joints), reduce your intensity level and amount of time spent walking. Ice the injured joint and take an anti-inflammatory. Cross train if possible, adding in another form of exercise such as swimming, yoga, or biking into your routine. Check your shoes to make sure they are not worn down to the point where you are not getting adequate support. You'll want to replace your shoes every six to nine months if you are walking every day.
When pursuing a walking program, you'll need to find ways to maintain your motivation. You may want to walk with a friend, write it into your schedule as an appointment each day, and reward yourself when you meet fitness goals. Look for new places to walk so you won't get bored, and find indoor places (indoor malls, fitness centers, treadmills) to walk in inclement weather.
Several years ago, Dr. Ann Gerhardt suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in an alpine skiing accident. An accomplished long-distance runner, cyclist and kayaker, the Sacramento physician began to walk as part of her lengthy rehabilitation.
In our highly technical world, filled with fancy equipment and specialized gadgets, we often overlook the simplest, most inexpensive way to increase our overall fitness - walking.
If a downpour isn't going to keep you from your fitness routine, you'll need to have the right walking gear for bad weather.