Written by Kurt Stork, P.T., Mercy Rehabilitation Services-Galena, KS

Walking is one of the most common types of exercise in America. Just about anyone can do it, regardless of their age or fitness level, and there’s no special equipment or gear needed other than a comfortable pair of shoes. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, yet only one in five Americans achieve this goal.

There are a wide variety of positive health benefits you will experience when you initiate a walking program. Some of these health benefits include improved heart and lung health, weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease, improved balance, and stronger muscles with improved bone health. Additional benefits to a walking program include improved mood, a boost in energy, lower blood sugar, improved sleep, and better immune function. It’s always a great idea to see your doctor for a medical checkup prior to starting a new exercise routine, especially if you are initiating a walking or exercise program for the first time or following a sedentary period.

Once given the green light, it’s important to tailor the walking program to a person’s specific situation, needs, and goals. An active warm-up of slow walking prior to increasing the pace should be sufficient to warm your muscles. Following your walk, it is an excellent idea to perform light stretches. A 30-second hold without bouncing is a great way to stretch your hips, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves after exercising.

We all know that it’s easy to start a diet or exercise program, but keeping it up is the real challenge. Some great ways to ensure that you successfully keep up a walking program include:

  • Keep it interesting by varying where you are walking. There are many parks, trails, and neighborhoods to utilize, and there are even indoor options such as Northpark Mall that can be utilized on a cold or rainy day.
  • Join a walking club, gym, or walk with friends. This is a great way to keep you motivated and accountable to get your steps in.
  • Involve your pets.
  • Use a pedometer or Fitbit to track your results and help motivate and challenge you.

Start your walking program slowly and increase the distance and speed you walk to improve your health. Walking faster and for longer duration will burn more calories and result in additional health benefits. You should be able to walk without becoming short of breath as you increase your intensity. Some additional ways to increase the intensity of your walking program would be to include hills or use arm weights while walking.

Regardless of your age or fitness level, initiating a walking program will bring you all the health benefits associated with exercising.  There is no better time than the present to invest in your health and start a walking program.