Making the choice to improve your health with exercise is the first step towards changing habits and lifestyle. Walking is one of the easiest and most adaptable forms of exercise. All you need is a good pair of shoes, comfortable clothing, and the motivation to improve your wellbeing.
If you have not walked for exercise before it may be a good idea to check with a healthcare professional, like a podiatrist if you have any health concerns.
Make walking a daily habit
The toughest thing about starting a fitness programme is developing a habit. Walking daily will help: a minimum of five days a week is a good goal. You should walk fast enough to reach your target heart rate, but you should not be gasping for air.
Where to begin
Start by making small but important changes to your daily routine
- Walk to work
- Walk to the shops
- Periodically swap the school car run for a walk, or park further away from the school
- If you have to use a car to get to work or go shopping, park it at the far end of the car park and walk back
- Walk between meetings
- Get off the tube or bus one stop earlier than normal
- Walk up escalators
- Walk upstairs, don’t take lifts
- Walk the dog
- Connect with others: meet friends or have a business meeting.
Take it slow and easy
To start, simply head out the door, walk for 10 minutes, and walk back: 20 minutes in total - this will be your first mile. Do this every day for a week. If this was easy for you, add five minutes to your walks next week. Keep adding five minutes until you are walking as long as desired.
Think about your posture
- Walk tall - think of elongating your body
- Hold your head up and your eyes forward
- Your shoulders should be rolled down and back and relaxed
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and buttocks and fall into a natural stride.
Take regular breaks
If you need a break whilst out, take a rest on a bench or stand still for a moment and catch your breath.
Before and after your walk
- Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after walking
- Incorporate a short warm-up and cool-down into your routine. If you are not used to activity then letting your body know that you are about to use muscles helps you prepare. This can include rotations of the foot and ankle, bending of the knees, lifting up and down on tip toes and shoulder rolls
- Start your walk at a slow pace, stop and do a few more warm-up/flexibility drills. Then walk for the desired length of time
- End your walk with a slower cool-down pace and stretch well after your walk. Stretching will make you feel great and assist in muscle recovery.
Establish some goals
Once walking has become a daily habit, you will want to evaluate your programme and establish some goals. Make your goals progressive to increase the challenge on your body's fitness. This can be done by increasing your pace, walking up a hill or on different terrain, and by increasing the length of your walk.
There are also a number of walking programmes that you can sign up to. Go to Where to walk to find out more.
The 10,000 steps challenge
Why 10,000 steps?
Walking 10,000 a day is a philosophy based on an idea developed in Japan in the 1960s around the time of the Tokyo Olympics. As Japan prepared to host the 1964 Olympics, awareness grew of the role of physical activity in reducing the prevalence of chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Many people turned to the simplest form of exercise - walking. Seeing this, a Japanese company introduced a device to count steps, which they called Manpo-kei, meaning 10,000 steps: the device counted to 10,000 steps and then re-set itself. In this way, the benefits of walking 10,000 steps entered the global consciousmess.
So what are the facts?
- Experts suggest walking 6,000 steps a day to improve health and 10,000 steps a day to lose weight
- Every 2,000-2,500 steps are equal to around a mile. Walking a mile burns about 80 calories for a 150-pound person, so depending on your weight, walking 10,000 steps burns between 250 and 600 calories
- Most weight loss programmes recommend burning 200-300 calories per day in moderate to vigorous exercise
- If you walk 10,000 steps per day, with 3,000 of those steps at a brisk walking to jogging pace, you should be burning enough calories.
So while the 10,000 steps a day challenge is a common aim for many, just getting out and walking any number of steps is a great way to kick-start your new walking programme.