A few years back, it was reported in the British Medical Journal
that for every hour a person walks, he adds an hour to his life. But walking not only helps you live longer
, it also helps you live better.
It’s good for your bones and your brain, and it reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke. It burns calories too. One study from the Center for Physical Activity and Health at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville found that women who take 10,000 steps per day have lower body-fat ratios and hip circumferences than their less active peers.
Sounds good, right? The problem is that many of us fall short of the 10,000 steps a day that health experts, including the Cleveland Clinic’s Michael Roizen, M.D., say are essential for health. “Most people only get between 3,000 and 5,000 steps a day as part of their normal routine,” says Dr. Roizen. Even he makes it a priority to count his strides. “I wear a pedometer every day, and if I’m below 10,000 steps at the end of my day, I go for a walk until I hit the magic number,” he says. Dr. Roizen says he often recruits his wife or a neighbor to join him on these evening walks around the neighborhood.
Before You Walk
Tracking your steps with a pedometer is one key to walking success, says Dr. Roizen. Another is recording some basic health information before starting a new routine. “Writing down results, and keeping track of how your body changes inside and out over the weeks and months, gives you proof of the healthy changes you’re making,” he says. A few ways to do it:
Before your first walk, check your blood pressure at your local pharmacy. Recheck once a month.
Time yourself at a track. Walk four laps around the track and see how many minutes it takes you to walk one mile. Retest yourself after one month of consistent walking.
Measure your waist circumference and your weight. Take these measurements once a week.
Schedule a visit with your physician and request these tests: lipid panel, vitamin D and C-reactive protein. Check these levels again after six months of consistent walking.
Here are two walks that will get you on your way to hitting that magic number. The first one is designed for people who are just starting out; the second one is for walkers who are ready for a new challenge. As you start out or continue on your walking journey, join our Facebook group “I do it 10,000 times a day!” and get support and motivation (and congratulations!) from other walkers.
What it is: First Steps Walk
How much time it takes: 10 to 30 minutes, including warm-up
Why do it: “This is a great way to ease into a new routine,” says Mark Fenton, author of The Complete Guide to Walking and host of the PBS series America’s Walking. If a 20-minute walk sounds daunting, start with just five minutes and add a minute every few days until you can go the distance. A few minutes of gentle warm-up exercises will get your blood flowing and help you loosen up.
How to do it:
Step 1: Warm up
Lift your right foot off the ground and do 10 ankle circles; repeat with your left foot.
Do a series of 10 pelvic circles (bending your knees slightly, move your hips around in a circle).
Stand on your right leg and gently swing your left leg front and back 15 times, holding onto a chair if necessary; switch legs and repeat.
Hold both arms out to your sides at shoulder height and do 10 arm circles to the back and then 10 to the front.
Reach for the sky with both arms and release; repeat three times.
Roll up onto your toes, then back onto your heels; repeat three times.
Walk for two minutes at a comfortable (but faster-than-window-shopping) pace.
Step 2: Walk
Pick up the pace for up to 20 minutes or for as long as you can. During the first couple of weeks, you might be able to walk for only a few minutes, says Dr. Roizen, but don’t get discouraged. “In about eight weeks, by gradually adding steps every day, you should be able to reach the 10,000 steps a day goal,” he says.
Step 3: Cool down
Slow to warm-up pace and walk for up to five more minutes.
Expert tip: “To get the biggest benefits from walking, set a pace that’s somewhat faster than the pace you tend to walk when, say, strolling toward the mall after you’ve parked your car,” says walking expert Mark Fenton. Covering one mile in 15 minutes puts you into the “walking for exercise” zone, he says.
What it is: Muscle Toning Walk
How much times it takes: 28 minutes, plus
Why do it: Once you can walk comfortably for 20 to 30 minutes at time, you’ll be ready to kick it up a notch with this routine, which combines walking with some basic strength-building moves. Use our rate of perceived exertion (RPE) chart to help you gauge your effort. “It’s a perfect workout to do at a favorite grassy park,” says Chad Hanzlicek, an exercise physiologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute.
How to do it:
5 minutes: Warm up, walking briskly at an RPE of 4.
5 minutes: Increase pace to walk at an RPE of 5.
1 minute: Half squats. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your arms stretched out at shoulder height for balance. Keep your back straight and bend your knees, lowering your body as if you are going to sit in a chair. Stop when your knees are over your feet (never allow your knees to drift past your toes, since this puts too much stress on the knees), then use your thigh and buttocks muscles to stand back up. Repeat 12 to 15 times, or as many times as you can with proper form.
3 to 5 minutes: Increase pace to walk at an RPE of 6.
1 minute: Standing calf raises. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, hands on hips. Maintain upright posture, knees in a relaxed — not locked — position, and rise up onto the balls of your feet. Hold for three counts and then lower to the starting position. Repeat 12 to 15 times or as many times as you can with proper form. As you get stronger and your balance improves, you can do this move on a step, lowering your heels below the step you’re standing on for an even more effective exercise.
3 to 5 minutes: Walk at an RPE of 7.
1 minute: Modified push-ups. Stand about two feet away from a wall (or a large tree) with your feet just hip-width apart. Lean forward, keeping your body in a straight line, and place your hands flat on the wall, slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Lean toward the wall, keeping your elbows tucked close to your body, until your face is just an inch or two from the wall. Hold for two counts and then push back to the starting position. Repeat 12 to 15 times, or as many times as you can with proper form.
3 to 5 minutes: Walk at an RPE of 7 or 8.
1 minute: Plank. Find a grassy spot where you can get down on all fours. Place your hands flat on the ground, arms straight, and stretch your legs out behind you, resting on your toes (you are in the “up” position of a push-up). Hold this position for one minute, or as long as you can without letting your back sag. Be sure to keep your abdominal muscles tight while in the plank position. If this move hurts your wrists, make fists and rest on your knuckles.
5 to 10 minutes: Cool down, walking at an RPE of 4.
Expert tip: To avoid shin splints and plantar fasciitis (irritation and swelling of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot, which usually causes pain in the bottom of the heel), invest in a pair of well-fitting walking or cross-training shoes, says Dr. Roizen. “And don’t forget to stretch your calves before and after you walk,” he says.
Rates of perceived exertion (RPE) for walkers. One low-tech but surprisingly reliable way to gauge how hard you’re working is to assign a number to your effort:
0 – no effort
1 – very, very weak
2 – very weak
3 – moderate (window-shopping pace)
4 – somewhat strong
5 – strong (purposeful strolling pace; you can still carry on a conversation)
6 – stronger
7 – 9 very strong (a challenging pace; it should be difficult to carry on a conversation)
10 – very, very strong (maximal effort; it should be difficult to maintain this speed for more than about ten steps)