Most medical professionals, researchers and fitness leaders now agree that walking, once seen as the poor cousin of jogging, is one of the best ways to get fit and healthy. Walking requires little specialist equipment, can be done anywhere and is ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels. So, why not hit the pavement and walk your way to fitness this year.

The first steps

Just as you can’t just wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon, you can’t just decide to start race walking for 10 kilometres each day. You need to slowly build up your fitness and technique over a period of time.

If you are walking for weight loss, you should try to walk for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. If you are feeling tired, sore or worn out, take a day off and try doing some simple stretching exercises instead. Then get back into it!

When you first begin walking, try to walk at a faster pace than normal that leaves you breathing heavier than you normally would, but still allows you to carry on a conversation. This means that you are operating within your target heart rate zone (the zone that allows for maximum benefit from exercise but with minimum risk of injury or overexertion). One of the best ways to set your pace is to imagine you are running 10 minutes late for an appointment. You should then aim to build up to being able to walk for 30 minutes at a time at this pace.

You may need to start with just a couple of minutes at this pace within a thirty minute stroll. After a few days, increase this to five minutes at the faster pace, then a few days later ten minutes and so on until you reach 30 minutes of brisk walking. This may take a couple of weeks, but you will gradually notice that it becomes easier and easier.

A simple walking program

Once you are able to walk for 30 minutes at a time within your target heart rate zone, try to formalise your program. A good walking program will have a mix of short walks, long walks, easy walks and rest days. Here is a sample weekly program:

 

Day                   Walk                               Time in target heart rate zone

Sunday              Long walk                      60 minutes

Monday             Day off                            0 minutes

Tuesday             Short walk                     30 minutes

Wednesday        Short walk                     30 minutes

Thursday           Long walk                     60 minutes

Friday                Short walk                     30 minutes

Saturday            Long easy walk             30 minutes in a 90 minute walk

 

In the above program, the walks could be as follows:

Short walk: 5–10 minute warm up at easy pace followed by some light stretching. Walk at target pace for 30 minutes then 5 minutes at easy pace. Finish with light stretches.

Long walk: 5–10 minute warm up at easy pace followed by some light stretching. Walk at target pace for 60 minutes then 5 minutes at easy pace. Finish with light stretches.

Long easy walk: 5–10 minute warm up at easy pace followed by some light stretching. Walk at target pace for 30 minutes then 30–60 minutes at easy pace. Finish with light stretches.

As you become more fit, you will need to gradually increase the intensity of your walking program in order to keep within your target heart rate (and get the most from your walking). You can either do this by gradually increasing the pace at which you walk or by gradually increasing the distance and time you walk.

Stretches for walkers

After you have warmed up your body with 5-10 minutes walking at an easy pace, make sure to do some stretches to take the muscles through their range of motion and minimise the risk of injury. The best way to do this is to start at the top and work your way down the body.

Head rolls

Rest your head on one shoulder then slowly roll your chin across your chest until you head is resting on the other shoulder. Roll your head back to the shoulder you began on. Repeat this 5–10 times then, using the same movement, roll your head from one shoulder to the other along the top of your back. Again, repeat 5–10 times.

Shoulder and arm circles

Start by rotating your shoulders in circles forwards for ten then backwards for ten. Next, working with one arm at a time, extend your hand and make a backward circle with your arm, repeating 10–15 times for each arm. Then make forward circles with your arms, again repeating 10–15 times for each arm

Quadriceps stretch

Stand straight and hold onto a wall or fence for support. Bend one knee, bringing your heel up to your bottom and grabbing hold of the foot. Push your bent knee back as far as you can go without feeling pain or discomfort. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat with the opposite leg.

Calf stretch

Stand a step back from a wall or pole the lean your hand forward onto it for support. Bend your right leg and move forward until your toes are almost touching your support. Now push the heel of your left foot into the ground and move your hips toward the wall or post. Make sure you keep your back straight and your hips forward as you hold a comfortable stretch for 30 seconds, repeat with the opposite leg.

Achilles stretch

In the same position as the calf stretch, bend the back leg so the front leg (almost touching the pole or wall) is extended. Keeping the heel of the extended leg down and the toes up, lean forward to a comfortable stretch. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat on the other leg.

Leg swings

Finally, before you start walking again, get the blood circulating by doing some simple leg swings. Holding on to your support, gently swing first one leg then the other from side to side, going across and in front of your body. Repeat about 10 swings on each leg then off you go.

Walking really is a great way to get fit with minimal fuss. Invest in a comfortable pair of shoes, get the OK from the doctor and off you go. And why not grab a friend to walk with so you can not only exercise, but catch up on all the latest news at the same time.

Resources: Australian Corporate Wellness – Online portal Health IQ

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