Fitness Basics: Walking for Fitness & Fun (cont.)

And set a goal beyond weight loss and better health. "What about doing a walk for charity or a planning a walking trip in France?" Isphording asks. Create a goal that's out of your current reach but attainable, she says, and that will help you stay focused.

Even if you follow all the tips to stay motivated, it isn't always easy, say the experts.

Archer teaches her clients to accept the fact that they're not always going to want to do it. "It's normal to have variations in energy and to experience a little discomfort at times. It's part of the process of conditioning your body. It doesn't mean you're backsliding, it's just life."

Isphording concurs.

"I've been in the Olympics and I can't tell you that I bounced out of bed every morning to run," says Isphording. "But those days [when it was harder to get motivated] were some of the most rewarding. You overcame doubts in yourself, you could meet the challenges of the day, and you got so much more out of it."

When starting a walking program, experts advise starting slow, then working up to longer distances and more time on the road. Even if 10 minutes is all you can handle at first, it's a start. Feel satisfied, keep gong, and try for 15 in a couple of days.

Progress at a pace you can handle. Isphording calls it the "talk test": You should be able to talk while you walk.

"As the body starts to feel more comfortable," adds Archer, "pick up the pace a bit more."

Keeping It Safe

Keep in mind, Yocum says, that though very safe, walking may not be for everyone. He recommends that those with lower-extremity degenerative disease such as arthritis or cardiovascular disease see their doctors before starting any exercise program. Some arthritis symptoms may be aggravated by impact; in this case, you might want to walk on a soft surface like a track or decide to swim or use a stationary bike instead.

Recent studies from the CDC have indicated that even moderate exercise can provide tremendous benefits.

The experts interviewed by WebMD agree, saying that while working up to 45 to 60 minutes a day would be great, you'll still benefit from doing 30 minutes or even 20. And they hope that once people get started walking, they won't quit.

"We are naturally active creatures," says Archer. "We were designed to move. It's unnatural for us to sit and be sedentary. We need the muscular stimulation. We need the stimulation to the brain.

"The bottom line is technology has made our lives very sedentary. It's not a character flaw," she says, "it's just that our environment is such that we don't get enough activity in our daily life, so we have to think active -- take the stairs instead of the elevator."

SOURCES: Shirley Archer, ASCM, NSCA; fitness specialist, Stanford University; spokeswoman, IDEA; author, The Walking Deck, Palo Alto, Calif. Julie Isphording, producer and host, FIT-Fitness Information Talk and On Your Feet, Cincinnati. John Yocum, MD, orthopedic surgeon, OrthoArkansas, Little Rock, Ark.

Originally published May 21, 2004
Medically updated May 29, 2008.

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