Beginner’s Guide to Walking

By Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie

 

Why walk? Let us count the reasons. Regular walking can help you maintain a healthy body weight, and can even outwit a genetic predisposition to obesity, cutting your risk in half. It’s a drug-free way to manage high cholesterol and diabetes. And even a little bit of walking boosts energy, improves sleep and brightens your mood. It’s arguably the closest thing to a magic bullet for your health that’s out there, and you’ve probably been doing it since you were about a year old. Need even more incentive? Walk with Walgreens is an excellent program to help you stay in step with all the benefits and rewards you get from a simple walk.

Yet while more people are lacing up their walking shoes and heading out the door (or stepping onto a treadmill) every day, we’ve still got a ways to go. Experts recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) along with two muscle-strengthening exercise sessions a week to fully soak up the health benefits of this miracle activity. That’s 30 minutes of brisk walking, five days a week, or 15 10-minute bouts sprinkled in whenever you have time. Ready to try it? Let’s get started.

 

Find the Right Intensity

When you first start out, don’t worry about speed or pace, or even how long you walk. The key is to just do it — and then keep doing it.

Once you’ve mastered the art of just getting out the door, it’s time to start thinking about intensity, or how hard it should feel. The good news is, whether you’re brand new to exercise or have been a dutiful walker for years, it’s all relative. In other words, the level that will help you to achieve amazing health benefits is personal to you. It may be slower than your spouse or faster than your best friend. The key is that you walk fast enough that your breathing picks up and your heart beats faster, but not so much that you are gasping for breath and unable to speak. In fact, walking and talking with a friend is one of the best ways to incorporate walking into your life. Just make sure that you can chat — but not sing. If you feel like you could belt out the National Anthem, you’re not walking fast enough.

 

Gear Up

One of the greatest things about walking is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on fancy equipment. When you first begin walking for exercise, all you need is a pair of comfortable shoes. Once you get the walking bug and start going more regularly, it makes sense to invest in a pair of dedicated fitness shoes for proper support and to prevent injury. These items will keep you going the extra mile!

  • Shoes. While you can certainly walk in running shoes — and many people do — there are several features of specialized walking shoes that make them worth checking out. For instance, a cushy, beveled heel smoothes out the roll in your stride and pads your heel strike. Walking shoes also generally cost less than running shoes.
  • Socks. As your walks get longer, you may find it’s time to upgrade your footwear from the inside out: socks, that is. Cotton socks have a tendency to get soggy with sweat and create blister-causing friction. Instead, look for fabrics that boast sweat-wicking properties (this includes both synthetics like Cool-max and Dry-fit and even natural fibers like wool). You may also want to experiment with different thicknesses: Some walkers prefer thick, padded soles, while others opt for thin, practically bare styles. If you still end up with blisters, try slathering the area with petroleum jelly or other anti-friction protection before putting on your socks.

    Longer walks and running can benefit from support stockings. These stockings compress the calves to decrease the risk of varicose veins. Just be sure not to let the top of the socks bunch up and create a tourniquet; this can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in your calf). 
  • Clothing. Just like socks, sweat-wicking fabrics in your tops and bottoms will help you stay cooler when it’s hot (and more comfortable when it’s cool), and can also minimize chafing. You can also dab the same petroleum jelly or anti-friction cream on any sensitive spots you notice, such as under your arms, on your inner thighs, or under your bra line to cut down on rubbing.
  • Extras. If you find it motivating to track how far you walked or how fast, there are plenty of free or inexpensive products to help. Clip a pedometer onto your waistband and track your mileage (about 2,000 steps = 1 mile).

    Got a smartphone? There are many apps that use either GPS or pedometer-type technology to track your speed, distance and pace. Some apps also allow you to map favorite routes, or try out routes that other walkers recommend. Some apps also let you share your progress on social networks so that your friends can become your cheerleaders and support your efforts at better health.

 

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