Written by Stephanie Barber, Grande Cache, Alberta
Cover photo courtesy of Colette Swenson, Calgary, Alberta
The ultimate goal is health and fitness, regardless of how you get there. Many people never get started running because they are intimidated and feel like they need to accomplish everything all at once. But, if you want to get fit and healthy, there is no better place to start than by walking. Walking has many health benefits and is a great starting place for those who want to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Health Benefits of Walking
Walking benefits both physical and mental health.
- Improved cardiovascular health – Walking is an activity that can be started slowly, and you can gradually work your way up to longer distances and a brisker pace as endurance and fitness levels improve. Walking will improve circulation, strengthen the cardio system, lower blood pressure, and help lose extra weight.
- Weight loss – Walking is an aerobic activity, even if you take it slow. As you continue to go longer distances and increase your pace, you will notice weight loss.
- Reduces sugar cravings – Doctors suggest that going for walks can help to reduce sugar cravings. This is a great health benefit since refined sugars not only contribute to weight gain, but also contribute to the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Boosts the immune system – When you start walking more, high intensity-interval walking can help to strengthen the immune system. People who tend to walk for 20 minutes each day have stronger immune systems and are less susceptible to seasonal colds and flus.
- Reduces stress – Going for a walk, especially if you can go outside, will help to reduce stress. Walking helps to boost circulation so more nutrients and oxygen will reach your cells. This helps to suppress cortisol, a stress hormone. It will also increase the production of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine which are the “feel-good” hormones. Elevating the levels of feel-good hormones will improve your mental health and wellness.
How to Get Started
You can easily work walking into your day without having to follow a specific program. Park at the far end of the parking lot, take the stairs, and if you work at a sedentary job, take a break each hour to get up and go to the water cooler.
Embarking on a regular walking program is a good idea and can help you work your way up to running.
Start slowly and work your way to walking longer distances at a quicker pace. You can walk on a treadmill, indoors on a track or even at the shopping mall, or outside. Make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes, and breathable, loose-fitting clothing.
Here is a program that can help you get started:
Week 1 –
Walk at an easy pace for 15-minutes a day. Try to get out five days a week. Be consistent so that you build a habit.
Week 2 –
In week two, walk for 20 minutes, five days a week.
Week 3 –
Add another five minutes so that you are walking 25 minutes, five days a week.
Week 4 –
Walk for 30 minutes on each of the five days.
This one-month schedule will have you walking regularly. After the first month (or whenever you are walking comfortably for 30 minutes at a time), you can switch up the routine so that you are adding more intensity.
When you first start, you will want to walk at a moderate pace. You can gradually increase your pace as you get further into your routine walking habits.
Once you have been out a few times, try to walk at a reasonably brisk pace that is still in your comfort zone. The best exercise will come from a moderate intensity walk. Your breathing may be a little heavier than normal, but you should be able to carry on a normal conversation while walking.
How to Stay Motivated
Sometimes, as much as we know the exercise is good for our physical and mental health, it can be hard to get it done. That is why it is important to create a routine and make walking (or running) a habit. Once you have created the habit, it is a good idea to have some fun with it! That will help to increase your motivation.
Start training for a 5K walk! Charity walks and fun runs are often 5K. If there are no walks in your area, consider joining a virtual walk or run. Register for the challenge and post your results on the website. You can also order medals to show off your achievements.
Consider starting a walking group in your area. You could join a virtual walk or run together. Having others to help motivate you can keep you going, even on days you do not really feel like it.
Tips for Beginning Walkers
- Start slow – You need to give your body time to adjust to new activities. If you have been sedentary for a while, introduce walking slowly.
- Time yourself – you do not want to overdo it. Start with a short time and gradually increase it.
- Find the right pace – walking too slowly does not have the same health benefits as a brisk walk. But you do not want to start too quickly either. Remember that you should be able to hold a regular conversation while walking.
- Plan your course – Sometimes people like to have a destination or a plan for where they will go. Make your plan so that you are staying within the guidelines of the suggested walking time.
- Challenge yourself – Make sure that you are regularly increasing speed and distance but stay within parameters that you are comfortable with.
- Track your progress – depending on your goals, you may be tracking weight, heart rate, blood pressure, distance you can walk – whatever your goals are, keep track of how you are doing so you can celebrate your success!
Because the benefits of walking are so great, there is no time like the present to get started!