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How to Begin Walking for Fitness

        Health | Exercise

Walking Safety

When walking, always keep safety in mind. The following three principles can guide you through your walking program. They should help you fight any tendency you may have to push yourself too hard. Remember, walking is an ideal activity to keep up for the rest of your life. You've got plenty of time to build up to a more demanding stride.

First is the "talk test," which is especially important during your first six weeks of walking. The talk test means that you should be able to hold a conversation with someone as you walk. If you are too winded to talk, you can probably conclude that you're walking too fast for your present fitness level. Even if you walk alone, you can use your imagination (or talk to yourself). Do you feel like you could keep up a conversation? If not, you may want to slow down.

Second, your walk should be painless. If you experience pain or a feeling of heaviness in your chest, jaw, neck, feet, legs, or back, you should see your doctor and describe what happened. Try to recall the circumstances: "I was walking up a hill," "It happened during the first few minutes," or "The weather was very cold."

Third, if you seem excessively tired for an hour or more after your walk, the walk was too strenuous. Your walk should be exhilarating, not fatiguing. If you experience a dizzy or light-headed feeling, it's time to back off. If you feel nauseous or are tired for at least a day after walking, take it easier next time. If you can't sleep at night or if your nerves seem shot, you've probably been pushing yourself too hard.

The same is true if you seem to have lost your "zing" or can't catch your breath after a few minutes of walking. These are your body's warning signs. If you have any questions about excessive fatigue, pain, or discomfort, see your doctor.

When walking, remember to listen to your body. It may take some practice, but you'll learn that your body really can tell you when to speed up or slow down.

Your walking style -- the way your feet hit the ground and your overall posture -- is also important to walking safely and avoiding injury. Read more on this topic in the next section.

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