How to start a walking routine this fall
Author: Matthew Fedro, PT, DPT, and OCS
Getting and staying in shape could be a walk in the park. Literally. Walking is a simple way to ease into exercise, especially after you’ve recovered from illness, injury, or surgery.
Are you a runner who can’t pound the pavement anymore? Don’t hang up your sneakers. Walk!
Health benefits of walking
Walking does wonders for your cardiovascular system, bones, joints, muscles, and mood. Research shows that it can, among other things, help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, manage heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. It can help reduce chronic musculoskeletal and back pain and increase endurance. The overall health benefits of walking are endless and also include:
• Losing and maintaining body weight.
• Reducing body fat.
• Improving circulation, cognition, memory, and sleep.
• Slowing or stopping bone loss from osteoporosis.
• Increasing energy, balance, and coordination.
• Easing stress and tension.
If you are healthy and have no underlying, chronic medical conditions, then walking can help you log the recommended 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week. Even as little as 10 minutes of daily walking is enough to help improve your overall physical function, especially after a period of inactivity.
Are you a daily commuter? If so, you may think, "There’s no way that I have 150 minutes per week to exercise!" The good news is you don’t have to do it all at once. Walking for just 10 to 15 minutes during your lunch break is enough to elevate your heart rate, and a great way to start getting into — or back into – shape. After all, something is better than nothing. To track your time, distance, heart rate, and calories, try using a walking app or pedometer.
Of course, if you have a history of cardiovascular or other medical issues, then you should check in with your physician to make sure that a walking program is right for you.
How to start a walking routine
1. Start slowly, especially if you haven't had a regular exercise routine. Aim for just 10 minutes and over time increase the amount of time spent walking.
2. Use the first 5-10 minutes to warm up your body and muscles, using low-intensity movement. Never go straight from resting to maximum intensity exercise, no matter how fit you are.
3. Cool down! Let your muscles unwind by walking slowly for 5-10 minutes when you finish, and then gently stretch. If you prefer stretching first, then be sure to warm up beforehand.
If you are a former runner, then you’ll be happy to know that walking can produce a “runner’s high,” as long as you do it fast, long, and intensely enough. This may require you to add hills or stairs to your route. You might also try interval training by walking fast for a few minutes, slowing down, and repeating the cycle. This burns more calories than regular walking. Your walking style doesn’t matter. It’s all about intensity, pace, and duration.
Wondering what to wear? The best clothing for walking lets you move freely and protects you in all kinds of weather. If you walk at night, then wear bright colors or reflective tape for visibility. During the day, be sure to wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
As for footwear: You don’t have to spend crazy money on shoes. All you need is a good supportive shoe with proper arch support, a firm heel, and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock. By the way: on rainy or cold days, you can complete your steps at a shopping mall or covered area.
Keep in mind that an ideal fitness program includes cardiovascular as well as strength and resistance training. Even if you’ve never been exercised regularly, there’s no better time to start than now.
About the Author
Matthew Fedro, PT, DPT, OCS, is the clinical lead at Stamford Health's new HSS Sports Rehab location in Harbor Point.