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How to Begin Walking for Fitness

        Health | Exercise

The Basic Walking Program

Once you've completed the Basic Starter Program, you are ready for bigger and better things, including walking faster and getting your heart rate well into your target range. Now it's time for you to begin the Basic Walking Program, summarized below.

  • 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.
  • Level 7: Walk 50 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 8: Walk 55 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.
  • Level 9: Walk 60 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week.

In the Basic Walking Program, your aim is to get your heart pumping at 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate reserve. Of course, as your fitness increases, you can't expect to just shuffle along and reach this heart rate range. You'll have to walk at a good clip.

As in the Basic Starter Program, you need to stay at each level until you can walk at that pace for the specified amount of time.

While these programs provide guidelines for how much exercise you need to do to improve your health and fitness, your own fitness goals can help you choose the exact duration, frequency, and speed of your walks.

For instance, if your main goal is to lose weight, you may choose to walk for 45 minutes to an hour, 5 times a week, at 65 percent to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate reserve. By keeping to a more moderate pace (yet still in your target zone), you'll be able to walk for a longer period of time.

Remember, the longer you walk, the more calories you'll burn. There's a simple rule of thumb to follow: If you decrease the speed of your walks, increase their duration and frequency. You can adjust how often, how long, and how fast you walk to suit your goals, as long as you keep your heart rate somewhere within your target zone and exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, at least 3 times a week.

If you find yourself missing the slower pace of the starter program and the chance it gave you to savor your surroundings, you may want to alternate brisk walks with more leisurely ones. You might try confining brisk walking to 30 minutes or so in the middle of your workout, sandwiched between long, slow warm-up and cool-down periods. You may also want to walk up and down hilly terrain, so that you can increase the intensity of your workout without having to walk at high speeds. Of course, you don't have to restrict your walking to your "official" workout times. Instead, you can try taking full advantage of the opportunities that each day offers for extra walking. For instance, try walking up and down stairs at every chance you get, instead of taking an elevator or escalator. Walk to the post office instead of driving there. Remember, any walking you can do in addition to your scheduled workouts is an added bonus in terms of health and fitness.

For the sake of convenience, it is important to build your walks into your daily schedule of activities. To keep your motivation high and your walks interesting, you may want to vary the routes you choose to roam or add new dimensions to your walking routine. Once you have mastered the Basic Starter Program and the Basic Walking Program, you may decide you want to be further challenged. Or you may be so fit that you have trouble walking fast enough to push your heart rate well into your target zone. If so, you can increase the intensity of your workouts by learning to racewalk, which will enable you to reach higher walking speeds. You may also want to try increasing the time and distance you walk by taking up hiking.

To learn more about walking, see:

ADDITIONAL CREDITS:

Peggy Norwood Keating, MA, Contributing consultant Rebecca Hughes, Contributing writer


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