I have recently started exercising regularly, and it has been much easier than I thought it would be. In fact, I may even be addicted to it! I am still in the early stages of my journey, but I am already seeing great results and learning a lot about fitness. I think the key to my success has been doing things gradually. I started with walking...
My past exercise experience includes an aerobics class in college and later walking/light jogging on a treadmill for 20 minutes at an office gym. That was years ago. Life flies by and priorities change during different seasons of life. As a mom of six who is over 40 and hasn't done any regular exercise program in several years, I have basically started from scratch. I'm not really overweight, but I would like to lose at least ten pounds and get more toned. More importantly, I love having more energy! Since I started walking briskly six days a week, I have a new spring in my step and have already lost inches! And I only started three weeks ago! I have added in some other stuff in the last few days, but the improvements had already happened just from the walking! I cannot stress enough that weight loss is not my primary goal. Even if I knew I would lose no weight at all, the much needed energy and other health benefits alone would make continuing to exercise worth while.
Just About Anyone Can and Should Walk
If for some reason, I quit jogging and doing other exercises after accomplishing my fitness goals, I plan to still continue the daily walks. My 61 year old aunt walks 4 or 5 miles every day, and my grandfather was walking 5 miles a day after a hip replacement at age 80. Regardless of whether or not you go any further with your exercise program, aim to make walking a permanent part of your lifestyle.
Women used to have to walk long distances to get clean water and still do in some places. We are designed to exercise more than just walking through the grocery store or from the car to our office cubicle. Recent research suggests that walking 10,000 steps a day is ideal which adds up to about five miles. That goal will be easier to accomplish by adding a long walk to your usual daily activities.
Planning Your Walks
Walking need not cost money or a take up a lot of time. Just put on your most comfortable shoes and go for a walk. This can be in your neighborhood or you can drive to a park with a trail or even go to a mall. There is safety in numbers so if you don't have a family member or neighbor to walk with, a crowded public park or indoor mall will be safer than a deserted street or trail. My husband and our large dog are my bodyguards of choice. When my husband isn't available, a friend and I walk with the dog in a well populated public place. Chatting with a friend or family member makes the time go by much faster on the walk.
Walk at least a mile a day from the start. Just about anyone can walk that far, but be sure to walk briskly rather than just a casual stroll. If you're like me, you don't have all day to walk, anyway so get moving and get it done. Aim to walk briskly at least five days a week. There is really no limit on walking, but at least one full rest day each week will become necessary if you ever progress into jogging. You can also keep track of minutes instead of miles and aim to walk for 20 to 45 minutes. Hopefully, you'll have time to walk two or three miles which will take 30 minutes to an hour depending on your speed. Your main goal in the beginning is just establishing a habit. Any walk is a good walk!
You might need a little bit of motivation at first while you are establishing the habit. Read articles on the many benefits of walking. Think about it and get excited about it! Arranging to meet a friend to walk with will ensure you will show up, because you know someone will be somewhere waiting for you.
You could also mention on your social networking websites that you have started walking so that you will feel accountable. It can be fun to post your mileage on Facebook or Twitter when you get back from your walk. You'll be pleasantly surprised when you read the comments and find out that many of your friends are already working out. Others who may not be exercising at the moment will probably find it motivating. I prefer to think of those types of statuses as "walking accountability posts" instead of "exercise brag posts." Throw in a witty comment, anecdote, or motivational saying to keep your posts interesting.
If you aren't into social networking, perhaps you have a friend or family member you can text or call to report your progress. Charity walk/runs are happening all of the time so maybe you could sign up for one in your area and train for it. You may even meet some new walking partners at the event.
Don't expect immediate weight loss from walking. If you are extremely overweight, you might start losing right away, though, since the more you weigh, the more calories you burn from walking. Your goal right now is to establish a habit and build endurance and stamina. I've never been one for strict diets, but be sure you aren't eating more calories to reward yourself for a little bit of walking. Most people will automatically start eating a little better after starting an exercise program rather than waste the calorie burning benefits. I have not made any major changes in my eating, but I'm trying to drink extra water and make other healthy choices to get the maximum benefits from my exercise efforts.
If weight loss is an immediate priority for you, start drinking more water and cutting out sweets. Eat "clean," which means cooking with real food ingredients rather than heavily processed foods. Try not to eat any carbs after 4 p.m. and have nothing but plain water after 6 p.m. I still order the occasional pizza, but I try to be moderate. I read somewhere that weight is eighty to ninety percent related to your diet and only ten to twenty percent related to your activity levels. Don't let that discourage you though, because it will all come together in time. Exercise can replace junk food or over eating as your new stress reliever. Over time, walking usually does promote weight loss.
After You've Been Walking for a Week or Two...
Once the walking becomes a habit and gets easier, you might feel ready to take things to the next level. Jogging or running burns more calories and can be fun if you ease into it. A future post will be about starting a C25K jogging program which starts out gradually by inserting short jogs into your walks. "Couch to 5K" is much easier when you start with brisk walking and perhaps a few squats instead of actually starting from the couch. At the time of this post, I am in my first week of a nine week C25K plan, meaning I am now both walking and jogging! My current plan is doing the C25K workout three times a week while going for regular walks or doing other exercises on the non jogging days. When I first started walking, I never thought I would jog or run other than those occasional short sprints to catch a plane or keep a toddler out of harms way. Never say never...
Click here for my Couch to 5K update!