How to Start a Walking Program and Stay Motivated
You should follow your doctor's orders. This column is not medical advice. It is an educational overview of the benefits of walking. Years of research have shown that walking may be one of the best exercises to improve your health as you age. It burns calories, which may help you lose weight, build endurance and enhance muscle tone. Walking is less likely to aggravate your joints as compared to other forms of exercise. It also helps improve or prevent many age-related health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, dementia and even depression.
Walking is one of the easiest and most convenient exercises and can be completely free. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes that fit well and a little motivation. Here are some things you should know to help get you started and stay motivated.
Start out slow. For many people this means head out the door, walk for five to ten minutes and walk back. Do it every day for a week. When that seems easy, add five minutes to your walks the next week and keep adding five minutes until you are walking as long as you desire. It is also a smart idea to start and finish your walk with a few simple warm up and cool down stretches. Stretching may make you feel better and help prevent injury.
Most fitness professionals recommend walking about 30 minutes, five or more days a week. For optimal health benefits aim for 10,000 steps per day, which is the equivalent of about five miles.
Your walking pace is also important. Strolling around the park or neighborhood at an easy pace is good for you. You may find that a brisker pace, which may look like an elevated heart rate while still being able to carry on a conversation, provides better health, fitness and weight loss benefits.
While starting a walking program takes initiative, sticking with it takes commitment. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated.
Find a walking buddy: Having a friend to walk with can provide motivation and support along with companionship.
Wear a fitness tracker or pedometer: Tracker devices can measure how far you have walked in steps and miles. It may provide motivation by spurring you to meet a particular goal and showing you how close you are to meeting it. If you use a smartphone there are free pedometer apps you can download.
Join a walking club: To find a walking club in your community, call your nearby medical center, mall, health club, senior center, running shoe stores or Area Agency on Aging to see if they sponsor or know of any clubs or groups. You can also use your favorite search engine to search for non-competitive walking clubs in your area. If you are not having any luck, you may want to start a walking club.
Keep a journal: Use a journal to keep track of your walking minutes, steps, or mileage and total it up at the end of each week to see your progress. There are free apps that use GPS to map your walk and measure your distance and time, which can be fun and motivating to see your end of week values and compare walking times.
Have a backup plan: Bad weather, allergies or other factors may limit your outdoor walking. It is wise to have a backup plan like walking at your local mall, buying a home treadmill or joining a health club.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.