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Why We Can't, Didn't, Shouldn't—But Promise to Start Tomorrow

By Rebecca Johnson

Read on for the walking version of "My dog ate it" as we shoot down your most common excuses for not walking, with help from Mark Fenton, author of Walking Magazine's Complete Guide to Walking for Health and Fitness.

1. I haven't walked or exercised regularly since junior high school!
Well, it's about time you did, isn't it? You're one of millions—the one-third of all Americans who are putting their lives in serious danger because they live sedentary lifestyles. "Overweight and physical inactivity account for more than 300,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S., second only to tobacco-related deaths," warns Jeffrey P. Kaplan, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The good news? Like quitting smoking, it's relatively easy to overcome these risks. A recent study by the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas found that even small lifestyle changes- such as walking around a soccer field during a child's game, or walking around the airport during a layover- significantly improve cardiorespiratory fitness and blood pressure. "The beauty is that these changes are simple to do and they add up to an important health difference," noted Andrea Dunn, project director of the study.

Chances are the shape you were in back in junior high or high school when you were more active- is a lot better than the shape you're in now. Even if you hated gym class, there are plenty of other physical activities you can take up that are fun and also beneficial. Walking is one of the easiest to do because it allows you to accomplish several things at once. Incorporate walking in your daily schedule to get to work, walk your kids to school, to do errands, or to visit a friend.

2. I get bored by walking.
So make it interesting! There are plenty of ways to inject fun into walking and keep yourself motivated.

Walking doesn't have to be a solitary event (although some people do prefer the peace and quiet of a solo walk.) You can turn walking into a social happening by making walking dates with friends, or even by combining walking with another fun occasion: walking to the movies or a concert or sports event, for example.

You might also want to join a local walking club or team full of other companion walkers to help keep you motivated to walk. Check with your city's parks and recreation department, hospital, or even the sporting goods store where you purchased your walking shoes. Or click here to search for a club in your area.

Vary your routine. Walk at different times of day. Walk with different friends and neighbors. Walk your dog, or a friend's dog. Explore new walking routes. If you always walk on a trail, try heading downtown or pick out an interesting neighborhood to see new sights as you stroll by. Take headphones and listen to music or a book-on-tape.

Plan a special long walk- a hike or visit to the beach. If you're really ambitious, you might want to plan and train for an extended walking journey: a walking tour of a foreign country or city, a religious pilgrimage, hiking the Appalachian Trail or a national park.

Train for a specific walking event.

3. I don't have time to walk.
What you're really saying is "I haven't made time to walk, because walking is not a priority for me." We can give you countless reasons to walk, but no one else can MAKE you walk. It's up to you to make walking a priority.

Think about it this way: Do you place a high priority on yourself and your well-being? It never hurts to remind yourself of the health benefits you gain by walking regularly (link to health benefits pop up window on general health pg). Although you may not notice these long-term benefits right away, you will notice this: You'll have more energy. You'll sleep better. You'll be fitter. And you'll be happier. If all of those things are important to you, then walking should be, too.

Even on the days you really can't seem to set aside a half hour for a walk, you CAN walk. Find shorter segments of time where walking naturally fits into your schedule. If you're used to driving everywhere, this may take a little rethinking. But just sit down, take a quick look at your calendar, and check off the places where you could walk instead of driving. If you have a short errand to do, a meeting to attend, or a child to pick up, walk. If you're headed to see a movie, to worship, to a game, walk. Although it may take a few minutes longer than normal, remind yourself of your efficient use of time: you're actually accomplishing several things at once.

Still racking your brain for a way to make time?
4. Walking is painful for me.
If you are out of shape or recovering from an injury or illness, walking might hurt—at first. But if you don't try walking for short durations and building up slowly, then it's not going to stop hurting.

When you think about it, the damage you're doing to your body by not staying active will hurt you far more in the long run than the discomfort you're experiencing now. If you don't walk or engage in intensive physical activity on a regular basis, you're making yourself a top candidate—for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even some forms of cancer.

Walking is one of the easiest physical activities to do. And it will get even easier, if you stick to it. Start by walking ten minutes a day and build up slowly as you get more comfortable. Never add more than 10-20% more time or distance to your walk in a week's time, but do keep a walking diary to help motivate you to add more time and ground to your daily walk. You should always check with your personal physician before beginning any new exercise program.

5. I weigh too much to walk.
A moderate five or eight minute walk won't hurt anyone, promises Mark Fenton. And if you're very heavy, your progress will be much quicker than that of a thin person's. Again, start with shorter durations and build slowly. You can measure exactly how many calories you're burning with this personalized calorie calculator.

6. I don't even know where to start.
    •Perhaps starting alone is your problem. Try walking with a friend, relative, spouse, or neighbor.

    •Andrea Dunn of the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas offers this ingenious starting point solution.
7. It's too hot/cold/rainy/icy/snowy out.
If humans have survived Ice Ages, it won't kill you to walk in the rain. Great rain gear is available; take advantage of it.

In our age of climate control and central air, we've been conditioned to expect our environment to remain comfortable at all times. But, come on, how adventurous is that?

If you live in an area that experiences extreme heat or cold, simply acclimate your walking routine to each season. In hot or humid areas, start your stroll early, or walk at dusk. In cold areas, walk during the middle of the day—on your lunch break, or in the afternoon.

8. My dog ate my walking shoes.
Well, we suppose it could happen. Hopefully you'll treat your pooch to something a little tastier like, say, a milk bone. And the next time you're out walking, invite him or her along for the stroll...

The real reason people don't walk is the one most rarely uttered. Plain and simple: "Because I don't want to." The trick is to find a way to incorporate walking into your daily life so seamlessly that it becomes like eating and showering and sleeping. Walking serves many great purposes that we too often forget. But think of walking as a basic human need, a form of transportation, a beneficial way to exercise and improve your health and fitness, and a fun and refreshing way to relax.