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How to Begin Walking for Fitness

        Health | Exercise

The Basic Starter Program

Each workout in your basic starter walking program should start with a warm-up period and end with a cool-down period. You can achieve this by starting each walking workout with five minutes or more of slow walking, followed by a series of stretches.

Then, after walking at your regular pace, end your workout with a five-minute slow walk, followed by another series of stretches. These steps are essential parts of your walking program (although the ten minutes total that they take do not count as part of the 20 to 30 minutes, minimum, that you should spend walking in your target zone). They will help you maintain your flexibility and prevent pain or injury.

Warming up, cooling down, and stretching all become even more important if you graduate to more demanding workouts that involve striding, racewalking, or walking up and down hills. The greater intensity of these workouts increases your risk of injuring tight muscles.

To get yourself started and keep yourself walking, you need a plan that puts you on a regular walking schedule. Our step-by-step program really works. It will help you increase your health and fitness while you experience the true pleasures of walking. You'll find this program demanding enough to get the job done, yet flexible enough to be adapted to your particular needs, age, present level of fitness, and lifestyle.

Getting started doesn't require any elaborate planning or expensive equipment -- just a comfortable pair of well-constructed walking shoes to support and cushion your feet and prevent them from turning inward too much when they hit the ground. Don't forget to warm up and stretch before you actually hit the trail.

Basic Starter Program

The Consumer Guide® Basic Starter Program is a good way to prepare your body for more demanding exercise. If you find the Basic Starter Program too difficult or if you have heart, lung, or joint problems, you should begin with the Special Starter Program detailed below.

The following list summarizes the Basic Starter Program.

  • Level 1: Walk 20 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 2: Walk 25 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 3: Walk 30 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 4: Walk 35 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 5: Walk 40 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 6: Walk 45 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.

In this starter program, you should walk fast enough to get your heart rate into the lower end of your target zone -- 40 to 50 percent of your maximum heart rate reserve. If you find that you can't walk comfortably at that pace for the specified amount of time, slow down.

Stay at each level until you can keep your heart rate in the lower end of your target zone for the specified amount of time, then proceed to the next level. The key is always to listen to your body. You may need to spend two weeks at each level, or maybe a week at one level and two weeks at another. If, however, you find that walking at even a very slow pace for 20 minutes is too difficult for you, then switch to the Special Starter Program. Try not to get impatient and skip ahead, even if you find the Basic Starter Program too easy. (You should spend at least one week at each level.) Stick with it -- slow and steady. You'll be glad you did, because this approach will raise the odds that you'll continue with your walking program.

Remember, anybody can start an exercise program, but not everyone can stay with it. Your primary goal in this starter program is to get motivated to exercise on a regular basis. Once you've completed it, you can proceed to the Basic Walking Program. Special Starter Program

The Consumer Guide® Special Starter Program is designed for people who find the Basic Starter Program too difficult or who have health problems.

  • Level 1: Walk 10 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 2: Walk 12 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 3: Walk 14 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 4: Walk 16 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 5: Walk 18 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 6: Walk 20 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.

In the Special Starter Program, you should begin by walking at a comfortable pace, even if it doesn't elicit your target heart rate. Begin at a level that feels comfortable and stay there for at least one week, then proceed to the next level.

If, however, the Level 1 duration of ten minutes, three to five times a week, is too difficult -- for instance, if you're out of breath as you walk -- then start by walking five minutes a day or less. Some emphysema patients walk for only a minute or two at the start. You be the judge. Once you can walk without discomfort for 20 minutes a day, 3 to 5 times a week, move on to the Basic Starter Program. From there, you will eventually graduate to the Basic Walking Program, which is detailed in the next section.

To learn more about walking, see:


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