Walking More

Most people know the benefits of regular daily physical activity. In fact, the Surgeon General says that as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking or cycling a day is enough to improve your energy level and mood, aid with weight loss, and reduce your risk for a host of chronic afflictions and an early demise. But how do you make physical activity a habit that will stick? A start is to set reasonable goals, build gradually, and keep your activity fun. The following are some easy ways you can incorporate physical activity into your daily routine:

  • Add more steps into your day by taking the stairs or parking further away.
  • Walk or bike one daily trip for which you'd normally drive the car.
  • Get a walking buddy or take a family walk after dinner.
  • Walk a child to school or participate in a Walk to School Day event.
  • Walk through your neighborhood and rate it's "walkability."
  • Take walking meetings at work.
  • Keep a daily activity log. Estimate the mileage you walked or the minutes you spent doing something active.
  • Buy a pedometer and consider wearing it all day long.
  • Form a walking group with a regular schedule. There is encouragement in numbers.

Ready to start a daily walking routine? Here are some tips for beginners:

  • Start slowly. Don't test your limits right away. You should feel good at the end of your walk, not exhausted.
  • Add on time slowly. Never add more than 10 to 20 percent to the total number of minutes or miles you walk in a week.
  • Remember that something is always better than nothing. Even if you intended to walk 20 minutes, a 10-minute walk is still vastly better for you than doing nothing.
  • Add four minutes of stretching to your daily habit to maintain your overall range of motion as well as muscle and joint health.
  • If you can't take 30 minutes once a day to walk, consider breaking the time down and walking 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes in the evening.
  • Keep it fun. Make your daily walk something you look forward to.

For additional advice on planning a walking/fitness program, here are eight tips from Mark Fenton, author of "The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness," on setting and reaching your goals:

  1. Choose "internal" rather than "external" goals—Focus on things that matter to you, not to others. So don't try to drop a dress size by your class reunion so others will be impressed. Instead try to walk 20 minutes five days a week so you wake up feeling better each morning.
  2. Focus on an enjoyable process, not a specific outcome—If your goal is to lose 30 pounds, you can end up (wrongly) disappointed if you only lose 28! But maintaining a streak of 30 days where you've walked or biked for at least 10 minutes will leave you feeling better on every one of those days.
  3. Have both short and long term goals—For example, short term is planning to walk 12 out of the next 14 or 50 out of the next 60 days; long term is trying to cycle 600 or 1,000 miles this year.
  4. Tell others about your goal—They're sure to ask how you're doing and thus help keep you on track; they may even start exercising with you.
  5. Plan real rewards for meeting your goals—Don't use food, and choose things of substance you'll look forward to. Earn yourself a new workout jacket, a concert, even a hiking vacation.
  6. Keep an exercise log or diary—It'll help you see your progress and keep your goal in mind, and is proven to keep exercisers on track.
  7. Sign up for an event—Committing to walk a marathon or cycle in a long fundraising event will help you build on your exercise. Pick a fun location for the event (say, Bermuda or Hawaii) and make it even become part of your reward!
  8. Join an organized or informal club or a team—For bigger goals, this can really help you learn to train properly and keep you motivated.