Welcome to the New Year, everyone! Here is to all those looking to hit the ground running with a brand new fitness program! However, let me throw in my two cents-worth before you go pumping iron.
Might I suggest, if it has been a while since you have worked out, that you slow down a bit and consider starting your new year with a workout program consisting of…you guessed it…walking? Now I know what you may be asking, “Walking? Why would I do that? Will I even see results?”
Well, I’m here to tell you that whether you are old or young, in shape or out of shape, walking can build the foundation that will lead to not just year-long, but life-long fitness!
As always, before beginning ANY exercise program, please consult a physician to determine your physical readiness and if there is any concern that might prevent you from participating in exercise. Better to be safe than sorry!
Now, if you are wondering how to walk for exercise, keep on reading!
Why Start With Walking?
We have covered this before, but it goes back to pacing yourself. For someone just starting out, walking is nowhere near the challenge that running a 5k would be. This is a good thing.
Our bodies need time to adjust to new activity. They need to be eased into new strains and stresses or they will break down, which is the last thing you want to experience if you have goals of becoming a fitter and healthier you.
Walking keeps the exercise from becoming too challenging, too quickly. This leads to achievement of goals and more motivation because of positive experiences. Pushing yourself is a good thing, but finding the balance between too much and too little is key to developing a habit, even a love, of fitness.
Remember, the goal here is not to just shred calories as quickly as possible by doing crazy workouts, but to create an environment of success that will lead to long-term exercise adherence.
Too much push and you will experience burnout, frustration, or a combination of both, because no one likes to fail. Too little push, and you will get bored quickly and won’t see the results you are hoping for.
Walking, done correctly (yes, there is a science to it), can help you find that balance. Yet, before we look at the “how”, let’s take a little more in-depth look at the “why” as we examine the health benefits of walking.
The Many Benefits of Walking – Physical and Mental
Do a Google search on the benefits of walking and you will find a whole host of reasons to start right away. According to health related websites such as arthritis.org, Reader’s Digest, and the Mayo Clinic, walking can help with:
- Strengthening your heart
- Lowering your blood pressure
- Helping to manage or prevent type 2 diabetes
- Maintaining a healthy weight as well as helping you lose weight
- Strenthening your core and leg muscles
- Strengthening your bones (which should be especially intriguing to those who have osteoporosis running in their families)
- As a side note, research has shown that any weight-bearing exercise (which includes walking, running, resistance training, etc.) is key to strengthening your bones as they adapt to the strain placed upon them. This is also why using a stationary bike as your primary method of exercise, while good, is not the best option for increasing bone health, as you are not bearing any weight.
- Improving overall coordination
- Improving overall balance
- Improving sleep quality (Exercise in general, can be great for your sleep! Check here for more information.)
- Increasing your endurance, stamina, and therefore overall energy
- Helping you to de-stress and lifting your mood (exercise releases endorphins, which are the hormones in your body that help you to feel good. It was key to my mental health when I was going through bouts of depression)
- For me, going outside in the fresh air for a walk, run, or hike, just feels so good. Walking gives me the time to think things through in peace. I have even come up with some of my best ideas when out for a walk or jog! I can sometimes feel the stress of a day melting away as I move. Give it a try the next time you are anxious or stressed out!
- Studies have even shown it can lower the risk of degenerative diseases of the mind such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
One added benefit that I have found personally is that it can be done virtually anywhere and with anyone. Whether you walk alone, with your spouse, your children, friends, etc. it’s a great way to exercise while also building your relationships with those around you.
Now that we have looked at the reasons to walk, it’s a good idea to talk about how to get the most out of it.
The Talk Test – Make The Most Out Of Walking
If we are walking for fitness, we want to make sure we maximize the calorie burn. Thankfully, there is an easy way to check whether you are pushing yourself enough and it doesn’t have to involve a fancy fitness watch or some other type of heart monitor. It’s called a talk test.
In order top perform a talk test, the first thing to do is to pick a phrase that you know by heart. Some say the Pledge of Allegiance. You might pick a quote from your favorite movie or a prayer. Regardless of what it is, you should make sure it consists of several sentences that you will need more than one breath to finish.
Now that you have chosen a phrase, there are three levels to the talk test.
- Level 1:
- Working within Level 1 means you can say your chosen phrase, taking normal breaths, almost as you would if you are standing still. You are not uncomfortable at all while speaking.
- Picture how you would walk if listening to Enya. This is a stroll in a park or at the mall while talking with your friends. Your heart really isn’t pumping all that hard. To begin to burn more calories, we definitely want to work harder and walk faster until we reach
- Level 2:
- Saying your phrase becomes a bit more difficult and uncomfortable. You can do it, but you are taking more breaths and your phrases are shorter. You can feel your heart pumping more and you are starting to sweat.
- This is a good place to be because of the amount of calories you are burning. It is challenging, but sustainable for at least 10-30 minutes. Going beyond this work level means you have reached
- Level 3:
- You are extremely out of breath, barely able to string two to three words together before inhaling again. During this level, you will not be able to sustain the workload for very long.
- While bouts inside this level of the talk test are perfectly fine, you either will want to stay in level 2 or bounce in and out of level 3 so you get some steady and some maximum calorie burn.
The key to getting the most benefit out of walking is make sure you are moving at a brisk pace. Pumping your arms while slightly bent will increase the calorie burn, as will make sure you are standing up straight and engaging your core (abdominal) muscles.
Periodically, you can quietly say your phrase to gauge what level you are at, which will in turn inform you of whether you need to speed up or slow down your pace.
Walk The Mile – Assessing Your Progress
A great way to see where you are in your progress is to give yourself an assessment every 2-3 weeks. If you have a track in your town, this would be the best option, as four laps around the innermost ring will equal one mile. However, there are apps for your phone or fitness watches that can also track your distance. If you chose to not use a track, then I suggest a route around town that is mostly flat.
When you are ready to begin, walk a lap around the track at a moderate pace as a warm-up. After this, walk at your most brisk pace possible for another four laps until you have completed a mile, keeping track of how long it takes you to complete. At the end of the mile, take your heart rate, note your time, and do a talk test.
- As a note on checking your heart rate: if you have a fitness watch, you can simply note what it is at the end of your walk. However, it can also be done manually. When you are done with the mile:
- Sit down and open up your phone’s stop watch. Find your pulse (Learn how with a video demonstration here), start the stopwatch and see how many beats take place in 15 seconds. Then take that number and multiply it by four to get your heart rate.
After completing the assessment, make sure to stretch your legs well, meaning a good 12-15 seconds per stretch. This is a good habit to get into after each of your walking workouts and will probably take you about 8-10 minutes.
Keep a log, either on your phone or in a journal, of your time and heart rate. As you progress, you will want to see your time and heart rate decrease, which are indicators that you are increasing in strength and endurance.
Walk The Plan – A Program of Progression
Now that we are informed about the “why” of walking and how to assess ourselves, it’s time to put it all together in a schedule that works for you. You are trying to work up to doing 30 minutes of continuous exercise.
If you are really just starting out, you may start with 10 minutes of walking. You might do a ten-minute walk 3 times over the course of a day for a total of 30 minutes.
However you choose to go about it, as long as you are working toward reaching that 30 continuous minutes in a day, then do what works for you.
Once you decide how much to do in one day, next comes how many times you plan to work out each week. It really can be based on you as an individual. Remember, when you are just starting out, some movement is better than none at all, though I would suggest trying to shoot for at least 3 times a week. As the weeks pass, you may find you want to increase the number of workouts per week, and that is perfectly fine! Wonderful, even!
Let’s put this into practical terms, taking someone who is walking 3 times a week for 30 minutes each day, and make a sample schedule that you can customize to your liking. Say you are going want to start your walking program Saturday, January 5. Your schedule would look as follows:
- Saturday 1/5: 1-Mile Assessment Test
- Make sure to log the date, your time, and heart rate
- Sunday 1/6: Rest
- Monday 1/7: 5 Minute Warm Up Walk / 30 Minute Brisk Walk / 8-10 Minutes Stretching
- Tuesday 1/8: Rest
- Wednesday 1/9: 5 Minute Warm Up Walk / 30 Minute Brisk Walk / 8-10 Minutes Stretching
- Thursday 1/10: Rest
- Friday 1/11: 5 Minute Warm Up Walk / 30 Minute Brisk Walk / 8-10 Minutes Stretching
- Saturday 1/12: Rest
- Sunday 1/13: Rest
- Monday 1/14: 5 Minute Warm Up Walk / 30 Minute Brisk Walk / 8-10 Minutes Stretching
- Tuesday 1/15: Rest
- Wednesday 1/16: 5 Minute Warm Up Walk / 30 Minute Brisk Walk / 8-10 Minutes Stretching
- Thursday 1/17: Rest
- Friday 1/18: 5 Minute Warm Up Walk / 30 Minute Brisk Walk / 8-10 Minutes Stretching
- Saturday 1/19: 1-Mile Assessment Test
- Make sure to log the date, your new time, and heart rate
Hopefully if you are consistent with your weekly workouts in between the assessments, you will begin to see some change in the numbers.
As stated before, you may find that at the end of the first two weeks, you feel ready to add another workout to the next two weeks of your schedule. You may feel like keeping it at three workouts, but increasing the time to 35 minutes. Even of you don’t, be encouraged that you are moving in a positive direction!
Taking it slow is not a sin! You are building a habit that you want to last a lifetime, not a few days!
It’s About Moving Forward – So Let’s Go!
I hope this has given you some direction as to how to walk for exercise. Allowing your body the time to adjust to new exercise is key to making fitness a long-term part of your life. Keep at it and you WILL see results! Let me know what you think in the comments! Is walking for you? If you end up trying this workout plan, let me know how it’s going! I’d love to hear your stories!
As always, if you have any questions or if anything wasn’t clear, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I will reply ASAP!
Happy Walking, everyone!
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