Your mind is ready and you have set your goal. But is your body ready? Are you well prepared to start your walking exercise program?
Of all the aerobic exercises, walking may be considered the easiest habit to build. Why you ask? Simply because you already know how to do it. Moreover, you can do it anywhere and you don’t need any heavy or expensive equipment for it.
In this post, we will talk about the benefits of walking and its advantages over running, and then we’ll detail a step-by-step process on how to start a walking program.
First up, let’s talk about the benefits of walking.
The Health Benefits of Walking
Improves cardiovascular and pulmonary health.
Walking strengthens heart and lung function by regulating the proper flow of oxygen in the body. This form of exercise engages large muscle groups in a continuous effort that increases your heart rate and your breathing.
The muscles you use while you are walking demand more oxygen, prompting the heart to work harder and deliver more blood to your muscles. This also increases the efficiency of your lungs and helps them improve their ability to remove carbon dioxide waste.
Your diaphragm, which is the muscle that supports your lungs, also strengthens as you walk. It is important to have a strong diaphragm to support your core and increase your endurance, stamina, and balance. Walking can also reduce the risks of heart attack, lung dysfunction, and other related diseases.
Provides stronger bones and superior balance.
Your sense of balance worsens with age, and can be even more compromised by some medical conditions or medications, vision problems, or stiff muscles. Without proper balance, you become prone to falling, which may lead to a head injury or other disabling injuries that could turn into more serious health complications. Walking helps boost lower-body strength, which is an important element of proper balance.
Walking and other similar exercises support both muscle and bones to provide superior balance. Likewise, walking can slow down the occurrence of age-related bone diseases. Movement, especially weight-bearing exercises such as walking, helps strengthen your bones, which in turn decreases the chance that they’ll break. Walking also improves your stability and flexibility, which can prevent you from falling down.
Increases muscle strength and physical stamina.
Walking is a type of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercises improve muscle strength, breathing, heart rate, and overall physical stamina. Stamina is essentially your ability to physically exert yourself for a certain period of time. Often, people don’t realize they have low stamina until they try to walk up a hill or a staircase and lose their breath.
Walking can improve your muscular endurance by strengthening your muscles so they can support your bones to help you function while doing everyday tasks. Walking is great for building muscle strength and physical stamina because it combines both aerobic and weight-bearing exercise.
Burns calories and reduces body fat.
You probably know by now that you have to burn more calories than you consume if you want to lose weight. Those who are more physically active are able to burn more calories doing everyday tasks than others who live a sedentary lifestyle. However, many of us have living and work environments that lead to sitting for large parts of the day, which contributes to weight gain and can increase one’s risk of health problems.
In an article by VeryWellFit, Bumgardner explains that around 95% of the calories burned while jogging are burned during a fast walk. This is as many burned calories as swimming breaststroke for the same duration.
While you may think that you need to run in order to get exercise, studies have shown that running only burns about 23 more calories per mile than walking does, meaning both of these forms of exercise contribute to the number of calories that you burn.
You get to enjoy “me” time.
Walking is a type of therapy where you can clear your head of all the thoughts that have been clouding up your mind. You can relax and reflect on the matters that have been going on with your life.
Spend some time walking around in your city while being completely aware of and fully engaged in your surroundings. Allowing yourself this time to be present is meditative in the sense that you are setting all of your problems aside to practice gratitude in the moment and focus only on the things that you want to focus on.
Helps you appreciate the beauty of nature.
Psychologists believe that spending some time walking near parks and bodies of water can lift up your mood. Removing yourself from humankind and gaining a calm awareness of your natural environment offers psychological benefits such as stress reduction and increased creativity.
Nature is a strong anti-depressant that can make you feel much more relaxed than being in an urban environment. After walking and appreciating nature, you are left with the crucial knowledge that the present moment is more important in the long run than what has or will happen.
Allows you to discover new things.
When you take a stroll some place outside of your comfort zone, you get to learn and discover new things that you were not aware of. You are free to wander around at your own pace, and stop to spend time examining anything that you find to be of interest.
It has been said that you never walk in the same city twice. As time passes, new things emerge, landscapes change, and the people around you change. Walking is a great way to explore the world at your own rhythm.
Helps you be more creative and productive.
Walking regulates the proper circulation of blood and oxygen throughout your body. Such correct and appropriate flow initiates the production of neurons and hormones that make you productive and creative.
One study found that when a person is walking, either inside on a treadmill or outside in nature, they produce twice the amount of creative responses as a person who stays seated.
The researchers in this study originally hypothesized that people who walked in nature would have more creative juices than those walking inside on a treadmill, but the study showed that both walking scenarios increased creativity the same amount when compared to a person sitting. In fact, those who were walking were 60% more creative than those who were sitting during the study.
Walking vs. Running: Which Is Better?
First thing’s first: Neither is “better” than the other. It simply depends upon your fitness goals and body capability. Some people may not have as much time as others to get a workout in, so they make sure to run four miles rather than walk them.
Others may have sensitive joints or injuries, or even would simply prefer to walk. So not only does it depend on your physical abilities, it also depends on your own preference for the day. Keep in mind that you can always switch it up by walking some days and running others.
Walking provides the same benefits as running. However, if you want to lose weight, running is a better choice because it burns more calories.Running burns an average of about 100 calories per mile, which is somewhat more than you burn per mile when walking.
You can also run the same distance as you could walk in a shorter amount of time, meaning that if you only have one hour to exercise, you will be able to cover more ground running, and therefore burn more calories. The more you run, the less body fat you will carry.
If you are entirely new to exercise, walking is a good choice, as it can also get you in shape. Likewise, it is the most accessible form of exercise for beginners. One of the best things about choosing walking as your form of exercise is that it has the lowest drop out rate of all the different types of exercises. This is because you have to walk every day anyway, so you can’t really escape from it.
If the purpose of your walking regime is to lose weight, you might want to try speed walking, as it can burn more calories than normal walking. When you are speed walking, don’t think as much about how fast you are walking, but rather how hard you are working. Consider the intensity of your walk, and a steady pace will come naturally. To lose weight, you need to walk at an intensity that puts you between 65% and 85% of your maximum heart rate zone.
To do this, walk at a pace that indicates you are walking with purpose, meaning you become slightly out of breath. Walk as if you are on your way to an important meeting and you have no time to spare if you want to get there on time. If your pace seems too easy, try walking as if you are already late for the important meeting.
You may also want to try power walking if you want to lose more weight. Power walking is somewhat similar to running when it comes to burning calories. According to a calorie burn calculator, someone who weighs 150 pounds who walks at a 4.5 mph pace for an hour burns the same 307 calories as they would by jogging for the same amount of time.
While running at a faster pace does increase the calories burned in the same amount of time, if you aren’t planning to go for a fast run anyway, power walking is a great alternative to jogging.
How to Start a Walking Exercise Program
1. Consult your doctor first.
As with any other exercise regime, it is best to seek medical advice from experts before starting. According to Mayo Clinic, although exercise can help address your health issues, you must still talk to your doctor first if you:
- Have been sedentary for a year or more already
- Don’t engage in regular exercise
- Are over 65 years old
- Have been diagnosed with a heart disease
- Often faint or suffer from severe, dizzy headaches
- Are suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, chest pain, or other medical conditions
Working with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime can help you plan the exercise program that will fit your specific needs and lifestyle. You want to make sure that there are no underlying health issues that could negatively impact your new routine. Beginning an exercise program that is more intense than you are ready for can cause injuries and serious medical problems.
2. Create your initial walking schedule.
As a beginner, you need your walking workout regime to be perfectly planned to achieve your goal. This is one thing that your doctor will talk to you about when you have your appointment. It is best to prepare a walking schedule that fits your lifestyle. Most training experts recommend the following schedule:
15-minute walk at an easy pace (5 days a week). Rest in between (3rd and 6th day). Your weekly total goal must be 60 to 75 minutes.
20-minute walk at an easy pace (5 days a week). Rest in between (3rd and 6th day). Your weekly total goal must be 75 to 100 minutes.
25-minute walk at an easy pace (5 days a week). Rest in between (3rd and 6th day). Your weekly total goal must be 100 to 125 minutes.
30-minute walk at an easy pace (5 days a week). Rest in between (3rd and 6th day). Your weekly total goal must be 125 to 150 minutes.
Note: If you’re having difficulties completing a week, repeat that particular week instead of proceeding to the next step. Don’t rush your progress.
When you start your walking schedule, you will want to begin at an easy pace for a few minutes before you start to speed up. Give yourself a bit of time to warm up. Make sure that you are wearing flexible athletic shoes and comfortable clothes. You can choose to walk outside, inside, or on a treadmill.
3. Prepare your walking gear and equipment.
There are four essential pieces of gear for walking: shoes, socks, clothing, and water. Other things you might want to include on your list are: pedometer, heart rate monitor, music player, and a walking journal.
Shoes. Your pair of shoes is the most important item you need to start your walking exercise. They must be comfortable, flexible, and breathable. It doesn’t have to be painful to spend a few hours on your feet. Just make sure that you choose comfort over style, and that the shoes you buy fit you properly.
The heel of the shoe should be narrow enough to secure your heel into place so it doesn’t slide around, and the width of the toe box should be enough to allow the edges of your feet to have some space. You don’t want the front of your foot to be positioned or stuck in such a way that could lead to bunions.
Socks. While your walking shoes are designed to protect your feet from the ground, your socks protect your feet from your shoes. An effective sock will help your foot grip to your shoes while reducing friction.
The proper socks can also absorb and reduce some of the energy transferred to the foot, which will decrease your potential for heat buildup and swelling. Choose a pair of socks that is made out of wicking fabrics. This is to keep your feet comfortable, dry, and blister-free.
Clothing. Again, choose a set of clothing that is made out of sweat-resistant, wicking fabrics so you don’t end up walking in damp clothes. Make sure to dress for the weather by following the layering method on cold weather days. When you wear layers, you can remove an item of clothing as you warm up while walking, and put it back on if you get cold.
If you are already warm when you start walking, keep in mind that you will warm up quickly. Start off feeling a little cool. During the summer, wear something that will make you feel fresh during your entire walk.
Also, avoid wearing dark colors when you go for a walk. Include at least one item of clothing that is a bright color so people can see you while they’re driving. Alternatively, wear reflective gear for safety.
Water. If you will be walking for a short period of time only, make sure to hydrate yourself with plenty of water before going out. But if you will be walking for more than 30 minutes, bring a bottle of water with you so you can drink while walking. You want to drink between a half a cup and one cup of water per mile that you are walking. Knowing this can help you plan how much water to bring on your walk if you are going for a long one.
If you are going to go for a walk in the morning before starting your day, set your gear out the night before so you can wake up and be ready to go. It may take some time to find the exact gear that works best for you.
4. Find the perfect spot to walk.
If you find a place that is ideal for walking, you are more likely to continue with the habit. You want to be comfortable during your walk and feel safe in your surroundings. Consider the following factors when choosing a place to walk: straight path, flat terrain, smooth road, and no traffic.
You can roam around your neighborhood, downtown, in open fields, in parks, and on trails and tracks. Look online for any walking trails in your area that people frequent, or go to your favorite spot in the city. The better the walking environment, the more likely you will want to keep up your walking habit.
[Want more more tips for living a healthy lifestyle? Why not read some great books on living a longer and healthier life]
5. Prepare your walking playlist.
This is optional, as you may want to walk peacefully without interruptions. However, if you’re a music lover and would like to keep yourself entertained, you might want to prepare a walking playlist beforehand. After all, studies show that music significantly increases your power and motivation when exercising.
The truth is, nearly every pop or dance song is recorded at 128 beats per minute. This means that there are endless songs that can give you this energizing beat, which happens to be the tempo to which most people walk. Listening to music can help you maintain a fast pace just by strolling along to the beat.
6. Set reasonable goals and expectations.
This is very important if you are a beginner and have been sedentary for years. If you set your expectations too high at first, you will be more likely to quit because you’re not getting the results that you were expecting. Instead, start at slower and shorter distances and periods of time, and gradually increase your exercise from there. It has to be slow but steady. There are no fast results.
If you find a walk to be too easy, you can bump it up the next day to make it longer or more intense. On the other hand, if a walk is too difficult for you, don’t try to push it. Step down a level so you don’t get injured or burned out.
7. Practice a great walking technique.
VeryWellFit reports that there are four steps to achieve a good walking technique—walking posture, arm motion, foot motion, and walking stride.
Walking posture. A good walking posture allows you to breathe properly and use all your muscles easily. It also helps you avoid slouching and hunching. Alternatively, maintaining poor posture while walking may result in injury and discomfort, or lead you to become tired sooner than you otherwise would.
To get an ideal walking posture, stand up tall and keep your head straight with your ears over your shoulders. Relax your face muscles and your shoulders while looking straight ahead. Engage the muscles in your core because this muscle group that surrounds your midsection provides you with essential stability that will keep you balanced during your walk.
Arm motion. When you walk with your arms in motion, you burn more calories. This is because arm motion can speed up your pace by generating momentum. While your legs will still be doing most of the work, your arms will be helping. Keep your elbows bent and swing your arms naturally, with your opposite arm and leg swinging forward together.
Foot motion. Walking may make your feet swollen and sore, but once you get used to it, everything will become much easier. Your steps should have a rolling motion, meaning your heel should hit the ground first, and then you should roll through your step from heel to toe.
Push off the ground with your big toe to move into your next step. To make sure your feet are working like they should, check out the wear pattern on the bottom of your shoes. If you notice wear on the outside or inside of your heel, you might not be walking with proper foot motion.
Walking stride. Walk with power and speed, but avoid over-striding, as it only puts stress on your lower legs. When over-striding, you step your front foot too far forward from your body. Instead, you want your front foot to meet the ground close to your body.
Make sure that your stride is longer behind your body where you’re pushing off the ground because your forward leg is not the one with the power. To get the full power out of each step, you want to use your back leg, which is what is pushing you forward.
Infographic: How To Start A Walking Exercise Program – 17 Steps To Take Your First Steps
This infographic below will teach you how to start a walking exercise program. Follow the steps below to get you started in your walking exercise program.
8. Calculate the average steps you take per mile.
The average person takes between 2,000 and 2,500 steps per mile while walking. The number of steps you take per mile may be different from the person next to you because it depends upon your stride length.
There are two ways to calculate how many steps you take on average per walking mile. You can either guess (also called guess-timation) or simply use a pedometer (or any other tracking device).
When calculating an educated guess, count your steps several times over the course of a known distance and then calculate your average. You can use a quarter-mile track at a local school to find your measured mile, but make sure it is actually a quarter-mile track and not a 400-meter track.
Walk in the inside lane and count your steps. If you are using a pedometer, you can check its accuracy by counting your steps and checking to see if you came up with the same number that the pedometer did.
9. Figure out your baseline.
After calculating your average steps, you’ll be able to find out your baseline (which technically is your average number of steps). Use this baseline as your first point, and then gradually increase it daily as you go on with your exercise. Reassess your baseline every three months to measure your progress.
Your reassessments will help you reconfigure your workout routine. Don’t be discouraged if you hit a plateau, as this is normal. Just make sure to mix up your walks a bit with your speed and distance, and eat a healthy diet to complement your routine.
10. Start slow, then increase speed.
Don’t try speed walking immediately. You need to start slow so your muscles can adjust to the exercise. Once you’re able to walk for 45 minutes per day, that’s when you can increase your speed.
If you do too much too quickly, you’re putting yourself at risk for injuries (such as shin splints) that will prevent you from walking for a few days. Also, without starting out slowly, you will risk becoming overwhelmed by your new workout regimen, and might be tempted to quit.
11. Choose the perfect walking weight loss plan that suits you.
Whether you are a beginner or an expert, you always need a “plan” to achieve a successful goal. Two of the main weight loss plans are as follows:
Couch Potato Plan
Leslie Sansone provides a 30-day walking challenge that you can try through MyFitnessPal. With this plan, you start by taking 2,000 steps on day 1 if you are a beginner, and increase by 500-step increments until you reach 10,000 steps per day in just 30 days. If the initial 2,000 steps sounds like a high amount, you can break it up into smaller pieces of 500 steps, four times per day.
If you are an intermediate, you start with 5,000 steps; and if you are an expert, you can start at 10,000 steps. With each level of difficulty, Sansone walks you through one month’s worth of gradually more difficult walking, with rest days built in.
Regular Exercise Plan
When you’re ready to take your walking game to the next level, you can use this regular exercise plan (10,000 steps) for intermediate level walkers. Here, you start with a baseline of 10,000 steps and work your way up from there. Just like with the lower step numbers, you can break up your walks so you aren’t required to cover all 10,000 steps at once. This is especially important if you have time-sensitive things to do during the day, such as working or obligations with your family.
With the regular exercise program, you will continue to see progress above and beyond your baseline of 10,000 steps per day until you reach 20,000 steps, which is another 10,000 past your baseline. In order to lose weight, you will want to take an average of an additional 2,000 steps per day after you hit your baseline number. This will help you lose one pound each week.
12. Challenge your baseline and beat the 10,000 steps.
This is how you start losing those pounds. Once you become used to walking your baseline, plus the 10,000 steps, take another 30 days to beat that record. But don’t rush. If 30 days isn’t enough, try and try for another month or multiple months until you reach the goal.
As much as time will allow you to walk, you can continue to increase your baseline number. As you do so, your body will adjust to the increased demand, making it easier and easier to hit your mark every time.
13. Add a few extra steps to reach your weight loss goal.
Aside from doing your regular walking exercise, take a few more steps by walking instead of using public transportation or driving your car. Here are some ways to help you add those extra steps:
- While waiting for a meeting to start or waiting for the doctor for an appointment, or any other activity where the waiting game is on, walk for two to three minutes.
- When you’re at the mall shopping, walk up and down every aisle.
- In the office, go to the farthest restroom (or the one at the upper or lower floor), except when you need to go back to your desk immediately.
- Instead of using a remote control when changing the channel on your TV, get up and manually adjust it using the appliance’s buttons.
- Don’t drive your kids to school if the school’s just around the block. Include them in your walking routine, and take the chance to bond with them while walking.
- When going to work via public transportation, get off at the stop before and then walk to your office. If possible, head out early and walk all the way to your office building.
- When going to the grocery store, if you only need a thing or two, just walk.
- Roam around your house when doing something (instead of just sitting and doing the thing).
- The next time you have a meeting, invite your co-workers and suggest to your boss to have the meeting at a safe, quiet place while walking.
- Use the stairs. Don’t rely on escalators and elevators.
- If your work involves an eight-hour duty of all sit and no stand, get up every once in a while and walk around (every two hours) for around three to five minutes.
- Use the stairs. Don’t rely on escalators and elevators.
- Greet the sunrise or say goodbye to the sunset by taking a few walks outside, then head straight to a healthy breakfast or dinner.
- Ask your partner to have a “walking” date while watching the sunset.
- Every church day, invite your friends to walk around the park or the neighborhood.
- Use your animal-loving instincts to go to the animal shelter nearest your place and volunteer to walk the pets.
- Meeting a friend at a coffee shop, or wanting to study in the library? Walk to those places.
These may not all apply to your life, but the one thing that they have in common is that you are going a little out of your way or skipping a common convenience to better your health.
14. Invite your friends to walk with you.
It’s always better to do things with friends or workmates. Ask your social circle to go walk with you. If possible, challenge them to a “walk-off.” Adding some friendly competition to your walking routine will help keep you motivated to keep improving.
There is an app called FitBit that allows you to find friends, develop new relationships, and compete with these newfound friends. This will also help you keep track of your progress and compete against yourself. Being able to feel this sense of community will help you integrate walking into your life more.
15. Challenge yourself by leveling-up your walking game.
Once you’re used to walking on straight paths, smooth roads, and level ground, it’s time to take your walking regime to the next level. Try walking on inclined slopes such as hills, or somewhere there is varied terrain so your body has to keep adjusting to the current conditions.
You can also start to do intervals of speed walking and regular walking to help your body burn more calories. As much as you can, don’t become complacent with your walking schedule. You want it to continue to challenge you as time goes on.
16. Include a healthy diet plan with your walking weight loss plan.
This is not to say to eat only certain kinds of foods—you just have to take everything in moderation. But of course, if you really are serious about losing weight, consider following a strict diet plan, which likely means increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and decreasing your intake of sugar.
Find out how many calories you need to be eating each day in order to lose weight. Try to see how many of these calories you can fill with whole foods, meaning foods that have not been processed and are one single ingredient. Many items that are sold in the grocery store are not truly food. Instead, they are processed chemicals that can be harmful to your health over time.
In addition to eating real food, try to stick with water, coffee, and unsweetened tea to drink. Cut out any sodas or energy drinks that are full of calories and sugar.
17. Drink plenty of water before walking.
We’ve said it before but we will say it again: Before heading out, drink lots of water to avoid dehydration. If you’re going to walk for more than 30 minutes, bring a bottle of water with you so you can rehydrate while you’re walking.
You want to drink as much water as you can throughout the day so that your body remains hydrated. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Rather, take small sips of water throughout the day.
Final Words on a Walking Program
Walking is generally good for the body. It doesn’t just help you lose weight (if done properly), it can also help reduce the risk of a bunch of heart diseases.
We have shared with you in this post the reasons why walking is beneficial to the body. Likewise, we have provided you with information on the common misconception that walking is no better than running. But most importantly, we have given you a step-by-step procedure to get started in your walking exercise program.
We hope that we were able to help you begin your walking program.