The great thing about walking is you can set an exercise routine based on your terms, including where, when, and how long you walk.

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So, you're on board to begin a walking program and get yourself into shape. You've explored new places to walk and found plenty of room to roam. You've checked up on your health, figured out your target heart rate, and chosen the walking program that's right for you. That's great.

However, if you're like many people with busy schedules who know they ought to be more active, you may be wondering how long you'll be able to stay with a walking program. This introduction to fitting walking into your life will help.

Maybe you're asking yourself: "How long will it be before I lose interest, am sidetracked by an extra-busy time at work or home, or invent any number of other excuses for not walking?"

Don't let these worries keep you from starting to walk. Begin now, and refer to this article whenever you feel the need for another dose of encouragement. You'll find suggestions for fitting fitness into your schedule -- not only in terms of finding time to walk, but in terms of making regular walking a priority in your life.

The Dropout Problem

When it comes to getting health benefits from physical activity, your ability to stay with a regular exercise program for life is even more important than the intensity of the activity itself.

Unfortunately, figuring out how to get people to take up exercise and integrate it into their lifestyles permanently hasn't proved all that easy for health-care professionals.

Nearly 50 percent of people who begin a supervised exercise program drop out within 6 months to a year, according to Rod K. Dishman, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of physical education and director of the Behavioral Fitness Laboratory at the University of Georgia, in Athens.

The dropout rate is the same regardless of whether people exercise in community or work-site fitness programs, in programs to prevent first or second heart attacks, or in outpatient programs for the treatment of overweight, diabetes, or depression. In fact, many patients referred to an exercise program by their doctor or hospital never even show up for the first session.

Exercise demands more time and effort than do many other health-promoting behaviors, like brushing and flossing your teeth or having your blood pressure checked.

The knowledge that exercise can provide health benefits may help people get motivated to begin an exercise program. However, their continued involvement over the long haul appears to depend much more on positive reinforcement from friends, family, and health professionals, and on a sense of personal well-being and achievement.

Instead of concentrating too much on official exercise programs, Dr. Dishman advises, more attention should be paid to motivating the estimated 65 percent of the American population who are currently sedentary. These are the people who stand to benefit most from adding more physical activity to their lives.

These individuals are also more likely to begin and continue a less strenuous exercise program such as walking.

Studies of exercise compliance have identified convenience as a major factor. People who drop out of exercise programs tend to live farther away from the exercise site than do those who stick with it.

Convenience is one reason why walking has such a low dropout rate as a lifelong exercise program. Walking really can be incorporated into your daily routine, no matter how crammed full of duties it is.

Compared with an exercise class at a health club, for instance, following your own personal walking program saves you both money and time.

In addition, although you may enjoy walking with a friend or family member, walking is something you can do on your own as well. You can set your own walking schedule, without having to wait for your partner or team to show up, as you would have to do for many other activities.

Continue on to the next page to learn more about fitting walking into your life.

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