Beginner’s guide to walking

Walking is essential to health and to living well – but taking time out for a walk can almost seem to be a luxury. Many of us sit at desks for long hours or whisk from A to B on four wheels. Here’s how to get started on making walking a part of your daily life.

Walking is essential to health and to living well – but taking time out for a walk can almost seem to be a luxury. Many of us sit at desks for long hours or whisk from A to B on four wheels. Getting about on foot is no longer part of daily life – unless you count crossing the living room to the kitchen!

The good news is that even just reading about walking counts as doing something. So does sticking up on the fridge an image of the trim, fitter woman who used to be – or could be – you. Here’s how to get started:

Consider the benefits

Be happier
Walking releases those endorphins that lift the spirits and help to relieve depression. Walking with others brings the extra benefit of socialisation, and deep, rhythmic breathing adds to your overall sense of wellbeing. Feeling better after a good walk is almost guaranteed.

2 Tackle fat
Many women battle all their lives with balancing how much they eat and how much they burn off. Combined with a healthy diet, walking is an ally for many a woman in her personal weight-control programme. It is most effective when it involves brisk walking on a near-daily basis for at least half an hour.

3 Dodge diabetes
Next to the obesity bulge, Type 2 diabetes is on the increase in world health statistics. Regular walking is estimated to slow the risk of developing this condition by 33 to 50 percent.

4 Sidestep strokes
Most people who have strokes are into their senior years, and survivors are often left with disability. Walking is an effective tool in recovery and regaining mobility, but it has also been proven to help stave off the development of high blood pressure, which is a contributor to the risk of having a stroke.

5 Avoid cancer
Walking and being active is shown to reduce the likelihood of developing a number of cancers, particularly bowel cancer. It’s also been effective in lowering the risk of relapse for those who’ve already had cancer. Nordic walking is particulary beneficial to women who’ve had mastectomies, as it engages the upper body and helps rebuild strength.

6 Have a strong heart
Heart trouble is right up there with the most common causes of death. Regular walking helps keep the heart strong and aids recovery.

Confront your excuses

7 I’m overweight and look awful
Making a start will obviously be the first step to dealing with this one. Getting nice gear to walk in will make you feel better about how you look. Find someone to walk with in the evenings or early in the morning when you won’t be so visible. Try driving somewhere out of your community where no one will recognise you. A hat and dark glasses could also help make you feel more invisible. You might make a wobbly beginning on this new journey, but once you start to feel benefits your confidence will lift. Remind yourself that you’re walking yourself into a new woman.

8 It’s boring
Walk with friends or an iPod, and vary the route or set off for an appealing destination, such as to the shops or a friend’s house. Explore places you’ve never been to before. Text friends if you must, to amuse yourself as you go.

9 I don’t have time
Most of us have full and busy lives and don’t have a lot of time to fit in new things without making a real effort. Get up earlier or find a night-walking buddy. Walk at lunchtime or walk to work, and try walking on short trips where you’d normally take the car. If you’re tied to young children, take them with you and go buggy-walking.

10 I’m just too tired at the end of the day
Just take a brief walk and see if it invigorates you. Walk at another time of day, and build up your stamina on holidays and weekends.

11 The weather is too hot or too cold for walking
If you are going outside into winter temperatures, dress well for the elements and chuck the walking gear in the clothes drier to warm it up a little before you set off. Warm up with a few minutes of exercises before you go out the front door. Beat intense summer heat by getting out first thing in the morning.

12 I haven’t got anyone to walk with
If friends aren’t keen or you’re new to town, find a walking group. Get a dog for a faithful companion or walk someone else’s. If you have to go it alone, listening to music or a podcast could be all the company you need to make it enjoyable and interesting.

Stay motivated

13 Track your progress
Whether you chart your progress using a high-tech tracker or an old-fashioned fitness journal, seeing incremental improvements in improved time or greater frequency can boost your motivation and keep you inspired.

14 Be realistic
One of the biggest reasons for failure is that first-time exercisers often set unrealistic goals. They aim for big goals but tend to become overwhelmed. Don’t start off trying for an hour every day. Begin with 20–30 minutes two to three times a week.

15 Don’t expect perfection
An all-or-nothing approach is a perfectionist’s way of looking at life, which can lead to you giving up when you miss a day or two. Accept that there will be some sidesteps on your fitness journey and you’ll be mentally better prepared to deal with setbacks. Expect that you will get down from time to time, and be prepared to miss a few days of exercise when that happens. Don’t let it be an excuse for giving up.

16 Take it steady
Stop injuries from sidelining you by warming up, cooling down, and stretching properly – and not doing too much too soon.

17 Don’t compare yourself to others
We have all seen those fatless specimens. Don’t compare yourself or let them deter you from your goal.

18 Get support
It’s about spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends and buddies – anyone who’ll encourage you. You don’t need nagging, just support. Find a walking buddy or a group online to talk about walking with.

19 Break it up
Make it easier on yourself by splitting your exercise session into two or three sessions. Research suggests this can be as beneficial as one long workout. If you don’t feel like going for an hour on any day, break it into bits.

20 Make it easy
Do whatever you can to remove obstacles to exercise and make it convenient. Get outside for a quick walk when you can. Set your alarm a little earlier and walk in the mornings if you’re too tired at the end of the day.

21 Forget the past
Don’t let previous bad experiences with exercise hinder you. Maybe you weren’t the most athletic person at school, but that was years ago. Your goal now is not to win a gold medal – it’s to stay healthy and enjoy your life.

Tune up your technique

22 Have happy feet
Decent socks and shoes make a huge difference. If your feet roll in (known as ‘over-pronation’) or you need extra arch support, you may want to insert an orthotic into your shoes. You can buy these over the counter, or get them customised to your feet. Over-pronation is common enough, but the impact of the foot roll not only twists the foot, it also pulls on the knee and shin, potentially causing pain up through those areas.

23 Stand tall
There’s more to walking well than just putting one foot in front of the other. Look ahead, not down when you walk. Keep your shoulders and arms relaxed and take care not to push your neck forward. Stand straight, keep your belly button pulled in and your bottom tucked in as best you can. It may feel strange at first, if you’ve never paid attention to what’s happening around your middle as you walk, but it’ll really help get your core muscles working.

24 Get more power
Try rolling through your step from heel to toe and pushing off from the toes of your back foot. Get more power and speed by increasing the speed of your steps, not the length of your stride. Slightly rotate your torso as you go and move your arms in time.

25 Deal with chafing
Wherever chafing occurs it’s made worse by a mix of sweat and friction. You can really only deal to it by preventing it in the first place. Talcum powder or skin gels can help, as can changing your style of walking clothes.

26 Reward yourself
Not with cake, but with treats such as flowers, a movie, or other things that reinforce a mind-body connection. Let yourself dream of a fabulous new body or of squeezing back into favourite clothes. Savour your rewards and remind yourself that you deserve it. Remember the stress relief you get from exercise, compliments from others, or simply the thrill of reaching your goals.

Extracted with permission from Walking For Fitness, Pleasure and Health by Helen Vause, Exisle Publishing 2012, $30

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