How to Energize a Walking Routine

Walking with a friend is just one great way to energize a walking routine.
Walking with a friend is just one great way to energize a walking routine.
©2007 Photodisc

The first step in establishing walking as a lifelong activity is to incorporate it into your everyday routine. Even if you have managed to build walking into your life, however, you may still need to remember how to energize a walking routine from time to time.

This article offers several boredom-busting variations to your walking workouts to keep yourself from joining the all-too-ample ranks of the exercise drop­outs.

Variety is the spice of life. So whatever it takes to add variety to your walking routine, do it; it will help keep you committed to walking for a lifetime and make each walk more enjoyable than the last.

The novelty doesn't need to be as unusual as walking on stilts to do the trick (although some people do enjoy stilt-walking). You can try walking to music, walking with a friend or family member, taking a walking vacation, joining a walking club, participating in walking events, or adding other activities to your walking program. You may even want to try setting a walking record.

We'll begin by exploring walking with music or a friend on the next page.

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Walking with Music or a Friend

Walking with music or a friend are excellent ways to spice up your walking routine and keep up your momentum at the same time.

Walking to music can help you get your mind off pressures and problems so that you can concentrate on your walking program instead. Portable audio players, handily equipped with headphones, make it possible for you to take your music with you as you walk.

You can even create your own walking-music program by selecting songs with the rhythm and speed to match each part of your workout, including warm-up and cool-down pieces to perk you up and slow you down, calming songs to stretch by, and fast-paced upbeat selections to keep you walking at a brisk clip.

Enjoy the music, but for the sake of safety, you still need to stay aware of your surroundings. It's a good idea to keep the volume control at a sensible level -- not blasting -- so you can hear any danger signals around you, such as honking car horns, shouting people, or barking dogs.

The Buddy System

For many people, a daily, solitary walk is a welcome opportunity to be alone, to reflect on the events of the previous day or the day ahead. Walking, however, can also be a sociable activity.

Even if you're breathing deeply, you can still chat with a walking companion. As a matter of fact, walking with a companion is a good way to take the "talk test" to be sure you're not walking too fast. Moderate-paced walking shouldn't leave you breathless.

The hidden advantage of the "buddy system" is that it helps motivate you to walk. It's a whole lot harder to use an excuse not to walk, like "It's too cold out," or "I'm too busy today," when a friend is waiting for you. It's a reciprocal arrangement: Your buddy can help motivate you to walk when you are feeling lazy, and you can do the same thing when your buddy falls into a similar mood.

Even if you start out walking alone, you may find plenty of company -- and potential walking partners -- out there. These days, more and more people are rediscovering the joys of walking.

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Walking with Family

One of the best ways to add fun to your walking routine is by walking with family. Like walking buddies, family members can boost your motivation -- they may be even better than friends at nudging your conscience to keep you in the swing of things when you'd just as soon take a day off or give up altogether.

One pleasant ritual you may want to introduce your family to is a relaxing evening amble in the twilight. Be sure to wait awhile after dinner, however, especially for a brisk walk. It's best to avoid strenuous exercise for at least two hours after eating.

If you're going to add variety to your own routine by making walking a family affair, be sure to bring the kids along. You may think, "I don't have to worry about the kids -- they get lots of exercise."

Although it is true that they probably do get more exercise than you, consider these questions: How much time do your children (or younger siblings, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren) spend watching television, playing video games, or staring at the computer screen rather than riding their bikes or playing tag?

While the kids may attend gym classes at school, are they really participating in aerobic activity? Do your children walk to school or do they get there by bus or car?

You may be raising your children to lead sedentary lives. Studies have shown that children mimic their parents' behavior, so if you've been sedentary, then in effect you may be teaching your children to be less active as well.

You also play an important role when it comes to your children's attitudes about television and automobiles. Most kids in the United States spend over four hours each day watching television. If your television is turned on most of the time, your children may learn passive leisure. They may grow up to be "couch potatoes."

At some time during each day, you might want to assert yourself and turn off the television and computer. While they electronic entertainment is off, encourage walking and other fun, physical activities.

As for your car, keep it in the garage and take it out only when trips really call for it. By relying less on your car, you will be teaching your children to build walking permanently into their lives. Some families that have tried this have become so wrapped up in walking that they now proclaim a "no-car day." On that day, no one can use the car except for an emergency.

In far too many schools, if physical education is still offered, the emphasis is placed on athletics for the gifted few rather than for everyone. To compound the problem, physical education and athletics generally focus on team sports rather than on potentially lifelong activities such as walking.

And what's even worse, burnout from participation in school athletics may even discourage future activity. How many times have you seen a coach discipline players by having them run laps or do push-ups as punishment for misbehavior or an error on the playing field? This punitive approach may actually discourage fitness.

In addition to adding variety to your routine, involving your children in your walking program is a great way to set an example for them and encourage them to develop and maintain physical fitness for the rest of their lives. Walking with your children also provides an opportunity for extra talking, sharing, and learning.

There's another advantage to walking as a family. Often, it's difficult for a family to pick an activity that everyone can participate in. Each family includes people of various ages, shapes, sizes, and levels of physical fitness.

Not every family member will have the same skills in skiing, tennis, golf, or basketball. However, even toddlers can walk, and when they get tired, they can be placed in a stroller or baby sling.

Go to the next page to learn more about walking with children.

To learn more about walking, see:

Walking with Children

Far too often, parents find themselves exasperated when they attempt to go walking with children -- especially if the children are young.

There's no getting around it: If the children's legs are shorter, they will walk slower than you do. They may also want to use the walk as a time for adventure and exploration, which further slows down their pace.

One solution is to allow more time for each walk, so you can let the children walk at their own pace -- and enjoy yourself. You might also consider setting aside time for two walks, one on your own and one with your kids.

If you have only a limited amount of time for a single walk, you can walk with the child during your warm-up period and then push the child in a stroller when you pick up your pace.

When walking with the family, make sure to vary your route, even if you merely walk in the opposite direction every other day. You might also encourage the children to invite one or two of their friends along or have them walk the family dog.

One more useful variation: Let one of the older children lead another child who shuts his or her eyes. This is an activity that is often used by educators to heighten a child's awareness of his or her surroundings and develop the nonvisual senses. Be sure, however, that you keep an eye on them as they do this.

You might also try walking together to go out to dinner, to go shopping, or to go to religious services.

When walking along a road where there are no sidewalks, walk along the left side of the road, against the traffic. Teach children the rules of traffic, such as obeying traffic lights and crossing the street at crosswalks. And, as in driving, teach them to watch out for the other guy.

Finally, make sure the children wear light-colored clothing. If they are wearing dark cloth­ing, have them wear bright arm bands or hats. That way, motorists can see them better.

Will you be able to talk your children into walking with you and staying in a walking program? Yes, provided you set an example yourself, and support your children with positive feedback and encouragement as they adopt more active habits. In this way, you'll be able to maximize the health and happiness of your family's future generations.

Don't push your children into walking, however. Nagging won't do much good; you'll just turn them off to fitness. Try to encourage an atmosphere of cooperation and togetherness and a sense of adventure. Show them how much you enjoy your walks and they'll be more likely to follow your example.

Discover the benefits of walking vacations in the next section.

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Walking Vacations

A walking vacation is a great way to add novelty to your walking program. Not only does a walking vacation give you something to plan for, it also gives you a lot to remember.

Years after you enjoy a walking tour of Paris, for instance, the early-morning hustle and bustle you encounter as you walk through your own town may remind you of the sights, sounds, and smells of the city. Suddenly, you'll be transported back in time and place -- all in the course of an ordinary stroll in your hometown.

Hiking trips are popular examples of walking vacations. There's also an abundance of American cities to choose from, each with its unique parks and neighborhoods to explore.

Foreign cities, towns, and countrysides also provide delightful territory for walking. Americans traveling abroad often remark on how much more hospitable other countries are to walking. Old World cities, built long before the automobile came to prominence, tend to offer meandering streets and broad, tree-lined boulevards that are ideal for walking.

Some countries also have walking traditions that can be a joy to discover on a walking vacation. One example is Switzerland, where the hills and mountains are criss-crossed with hiking trails. Often, the trails feature stations where the walker can take advantage of instructions and equipment for calisthenic exercises.

Another lovely walking tradition is the evening promenade in Spain; whole families converge on central squares to stroll and greet one another.

Your walking tour can be as spartan or luxurious as you choose. You can arrange to spend your nights camping out in the wilderness or staying in hostels, inns, or hotels -- and still spend your days walking.

Unless you are an experienced hiker or long-distance walker, you'll want to limit most of your treks to about ten miles per day. If possible, arrange your travel plans so that you can take your time and walk at a comfortable pace.

It can take a lot of preparation to map out a walking tour. Some travel agencies offer pre-arranged walking tours, where your accommodations and your daily walking routes will be mapped out for you. Even if you go on a regular tour, you can try to skip the cabs and tour buses and walk to at least some of your destinations.

Carrying all the guidebooks, maps, and brochures you need to guide you in your walking vacations can be a weighty proposition. To relieve this burden, some enterprising companies are marketing audio walking tours.

Check with the tourist bureau at your destination, too. They may have prepared audio guides that you can borrow, rent, or buy.

Learn about walking clubs in our final section.

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Walking Clubs

You may want to take a step beyond just walking with friends and family -- and join one of the many walking clubs. Clubs exist all over the country.

Many clubs sponsor walking events, which can put some zip into your walking program. These events range from low-key togetherness walks to high-powered racewalking events.

On the friendlier, noncompetitive end of the spectrum are 6- or 12-mile walking events called volkswalks -- that's "people's walks" in German -- sponsored by local branches of the American Volkssport Association.

Many worthy charities also sponsor walking events. Remember, too, that many racewalkers -- and freestyle walkers -- join events that are meant primarily for joggers.

Marathons are an example: Covering 26 miles is no mean feat, whether you jog, racewalk, or just plain walk the distance. Be sure that you prepare for these events, gradually increasing the distance of your daily walk.

Cross-Training

Cross-training means devoting oneself to more than one activity for fitness. By definition, it's a boredom buster, because you can switch from one activity to another.

If you've been following a walking program, and you now feel that you're ready for a new challenge, a cross-training program may be for you.

For walkers, cross-training is an important opportunity to choose a companion activity that does what walking can't do -- build upper body strength. Swimming, weight training, rowing, and cross-country skiing are all good companion activities.

You can devise your own personal cross-training routine, using walking as the cornerstone of your active lifestyle. Start by choosing just one new activity to do on "off" days -- the days when you don't do your fitness walking.

Keep in mind that, just as in walking, you will need to progress with your companion activity gradually. After adding an activity on top of your regular walking routine, you'll want to wait at least three months before adding yet another activity.

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ADDITIONAL CREDITS:

Peggy Norwood Keating, MA, Contributing consultant

Rebecca Hughes, Contributing writer