Walk it out! Starting a Walking Program

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CobieI know I’m not the only who feels it’s been an endless North Carolina winter! What could be more wonderful than the emerging spring with its warmer temperatures, bright sun, Carolina blue skies and longer days to spend time enjoying every minute of it!  One of my favorite activities in the spring is to venture out for long walks with my black lab Cobie, exploring the many things our beautiful state has to offer while getting fit at the same time!

Walking is a great way to improve your overall endurance, help maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your bones, improve balance and coordination, and prevent and/or manage pain and/or disease while simultaneously elevating your mood by reducing stress. Whether you add a walk once a week or several days a week, you will reap the benefits. And the best parts of walking- it's convenient and easy to do in most locations and is a great activity to do solo, with your fur babies, or friends and family.

In addition to the weather finally (hopefully) turning the corner, National Start Walking Day, organized by the American Heart Association, is Wednesday, April 1st, so I thought for today, I'd offer some tips on starting a walking program:

Beginning a walking program requires only a little preparation. First off, get a good pair of walking or cross-training sneakers that offer both support and shock absorption for walking. If you plan on wearing your sneakers for additional activities, keep in mind you will need to replace them more often. Depending on the time of day, you may also want to grab some sunscreen, sunglasses, a water bottle, and/or reflective clothing.  Dressing in layers will help keep you comfortable from your warm up to your cool down.

Now let’s talk walking technique:

  • Begin your walk with  5 minutes at an easy pace to help loosen and prepare the muscles for exercise. If your muscles are feeling tight, it is fine to stop and stretch them.
  • Then, increase your pace to a speed where your heart rate is elevated, your body feels warm and you may sweat, but it feels sustainable. At this pace you should be able to comfortably talk with a friend. Aim for 20 minutes at this pace, but if you're new to exercise you may need to build up from 5-10 minutes. Focus on good, upright posture with your chin parallel to the road and your head looking forward. Consider lowering your eyes instead of your chin to see your walking surface. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, bend your elbows slightly, and allow your arms to move freely back and forth. Lightly engage your abdominals to protect your lower back, and take each step with purpose, allowing your feet to smoothly transition from heel to toe. As your speed increases or when you walk on an incline, hinge forward from your ankle joint rather than at your hips which can cause stress on your lower back.
  • At the end of your walk, slow down to begin the cool down process and allow for 5 to 10 minutes to stretch. Include stretches that target the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves/shins, lower back and shoulders. Stretch to the point of mild tension for at least 30 seconds allowing your muscles to relax.  Don't forget to breathe!

So let’s welcome the change in season and celebration National Start Walking Day by lacing up our sneakers, stepping out into the fresh spring air and enjoying the many benefits of this simple form of exercise!  Where do you enjoy walking?

For more information on walking and National Start Walking Day, be sure to visit the American Heart Association's Walking Resources Page

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About Author

Cheryl Wheelock

Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator

Cheryl has worked in health and fitness for 18 years. In addition to teaching group exercise, she is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a Registered Yoga Teacher. When she's not at SAS, she is a mom to two daughters and a black lab and enjoys logging many miles on her road bike.

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