It is spring. The weather is lovely and you want to take a walk. The only trouble is that you get winded just walking to the mail box and back. Even if you have never been into exercising, you know that this is not a good thing. This is your wake-up call. Wake up, make your intentions clear, and recognize that you need help. It will seem more official and be in your best interest if you see your doctor before taking your first steps. Your doctor will check you over, impart words of wisdom, and hopefully give you a subtle push in the right direction. Listen to that advice and take advantage of referrals and recommendations. You are not alone.
A very determined elderly woman walks by my house every day (rain or shine). She isn’t fast and she uses a walker, but she rarely misses a day. I don’t know how far she goes and I don’t want to distract her with conversation when she is working so hard, but I smile and let her know that I am proud of her. I am sure that she does one-two miles every day. Are you going to let her put you to shame?
An article in Prevention magazine (April 1995) by Maggie Spilner outlined a number of walking programs for beginning walkers. I know that 1995 seems like a long time ago, but the same facts and figures keep repeating themselves every year. It isn’t as if the need for exercise is ever going to go away.
The best walking program for you will depend on what kind of shape you are in and on how healthy you are. Start slowly and don’t get discouraged. You aren’t going to be able to run four laps around the high school track if you haven’t been active in awhile. How motivated you are and what kind of time constraints you are working against will have to figure into your plan.
If you are truly out of shape and your knees hurt when you try to walk, you might consider walking in a pool. Yes, water walking. You will be pleased to discover that water walking and water aerobics have become quite popular. So, tuck your swimming suit in a bag and head to the YMCA, the local recreation center or anywhere a pool can be found. It isn’t as easy as it looks, but it allows you to regain muscle strength and endurance while being easy on your joints. You can do some other joint friendly activities as well to keep boredom at bay and help you get into the swing of things.
If you really want to enjoy nature but don’t want to work up a sweat you can go for slower but longer distance walks. Most of us get nervous just thinking about having to set aside a whole hour for a walk, but this is a good way start if you are easing back into an exercise program. If you need to start with just 10 minutes it is okay, ease your way into 45-60 minute walks. The goal is to go the distance without wearing yourself out.
If you don’t have 45-60 minutes at a time to exercise don’t be discouraged and don’t stop. You can log your miles by walking for shorter periods of time throughout the day. Two sessions of 15 minutes or 3 sessions of 10 can work for you too.
I do interval walking. Studies indicate that this is the best way to exercise. I hope so. I came by interval walking through the backdoor but it seems to be working for me. I started as a jogger but recurrent Plantar Fasciitis (painful feet) put a halt to that, at least temporarily. Walking still bores me and I find myself breaking into a slow jog during the fast interval segments, but it helps me have the best of both worlds. I have seen walkers skim along very nicely though, so do whatever it takes to motivate yourself. Interval walking means alternating a moderate walk with 1-2-3 minute intervals of brisk walking. You don’t have to actually sprint, although that is kind of fun, but just challenging yourself for a minute or two can do really good things for your metabolism. You can do interval training with any aerobic exercise (walking, running, biking, stair climbing, treadmill or even the elliptical).
So, what does it all mean? You will be able to get out in the fresh air and enjoy the spring flowers without getting short of breath. Side benefits include weight loss, increased thigh strength, better blood pressure reading and a healthier lifestyle. What could be better than that?