Consistent, brisk walking can reduce the risk of heart disease by the same amount as more vigorous exercise such as running.
According to Amy Flynn, MS, an exercise physiologist at Good Shepherd’s Optimal Fitness Center, your first step before beginning a walking program is to discuss it with your family physician, who may know something about your medications or conditions that may impact your ability to exercise. If cleared to begin a walking program, Flynn offers these tips:
- Invest in a good pair of walking shoes. Plan to replace your shoes every 300 to 500 miles or 3 to 6 months. Wearing worn or uncomfortable shoes is one of the main contributors to joint and back pain.
- Start slowly to avoid injury. Start with walks of 5 to 10 minutes and slowly build up to 15 minutes. Then, over 2 or 3 months, you can work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of walking most days.
- Warm up. The first 5 to 10 minutes of your walk should be easy in order to warm your muscles and gradually increase your heart rate.
- Know the amount of time and intensity needed to fulfill your goals. For health benefits, walk at a steady pace for 30 minutes on most days. For cardiovascular fitness, walk at a fast pace for 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times a week. For weight loss, walk at a brisk pace for 45 to 60 minutes, 5 times a week.
If you develop an injury or have questions about walking for exercise, consult with a physical therapist or other health-care provider.