Walking would seem to come naturally, but there are several things to remember when walking for exercise.
Hold your head erect, and keep your back straight, chest and chin up (parallel to ground), and abdomen tight. Shoulders should be relaxed, allowing the arms to swing loosely at sides. Hands should be loose in a partially closed curl, never clenched, eyes looking straight ahead. Bending your elbows at a 90° angle will help you increase your speed.
Land on the heel of the foot and roll forward to drive off the ball of the foot. Walking only on the ball of the foot or in a flat-footed style may cause fatigue and soreness. Avoid overstriding; take more rapid, smaller steps to increase your speed. When walking up or down hills, or at a very rapid pace, lean forward slightly.
Sometimes people who are not used to exercising breathe rapidly and shallowly while walking. This can lead to more rapid and shallow breathing, and finally having to stop to catch your breath. Try to exhale deeply through your mouth while you are walking (this will help you inhale deeply). If you have to, slow down your pace until you catch your breath, then resume your original walking speed.
Start walking slowly for 3–5 minutes and finish with slow walking for 3–5 minutes as well. This is important even if you are walking for 10 minutes. Warming up and cooling down give your heart and muscles a chance to prepare themselves safely for a change in exertion. Stretching before and after you walk will keep your joints limber.
A good pair of shoes is the only “special” equipment required for walking. See “Choosing Footwear” for more on choosing shoes.
Like any activity, walking requires time to build up stamina. Start with what feels comfortable. Most people can walk for 5–10 minutes at a moderate pace. If you prefer, use a “five-minute-out, five-minute-back” prescription: Walk for 5 minutes, then turn around and walk 5 minutes back to your starting point.
Increase the time (duration) of your walks first, then increase the speed. A general rule is to increase walking distance or duration by 10% per week. Don’t try to compete with others when walking. Individuals vary widely in their capacity for exercise. Your objective should be to steadily improve your own performance, not to walk farther or faster than someone else.
Listen to your body when you walk. If you develop dizziness, pain, nausea, or any other unusual symptom, slow down or stop. If the problem persists, see your physician before walking again.
You can expect to have more energy and stamina after just 2–3 weeks of regular walking. Some people even report feeling better after their first walk.
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