Healthbeat

6 tips to help you keep a walking regimen on track

walking regimen

Regular walks are an incredibly popular way to exercise — and it's easy to see why. Walking is easy and free (except for a good pair of shoes), and can be done just about anywhere. But it's those very qualities that can also make it very tempting to skip. If your walking routine is in danger of lapsing, try one or more of these strategies to keep going.

1. Have a backup plan. For example, if you sleep in and miss your morning walk, you'll know that you're going to walk during lunch instead. Or, maybe you know that dinner with friends will prevent you from taking your evening stroll, so instead you sneak in a 15-minute walk in the morning and another before you meet your friends. And keeping a pair of sneakers in your car gives you the option to squeeze in a walk whenever you have a little extra time.

2. Create a cue. Many daily habits happen because something signals you to do them, like brushing your teeth in the morning and before bed. Try tying your walks to regularly scheduled activities, such as getting up in the morning or lunchtime. Over time, you'll associate walking with those activities, so they will remind you to take a walk.

3. Get a four-legged walking companion. Studies show that people who have dogs walk more. If you're up for the responsibility, getting a dog could be the catalyst that turns you into a habitual walker. But even if you can't commit to having a dog, there are still ways that man's best friend can keep you moving. Offer to walk your neighbor's dog, or ask a local shelter if they need a volunteer walker.

4. "Read" and walk. Audiobooks can make the time pass quickly while you're walking. Make a pact with yourself that you can only listen to an audiobook during your walks, in order to provide motivation. If you are walking outdoors, keep the volume low and use only one earbud so you'll remain alert to your surroundings in case of trouble.

5. Get a little rhythm. Music has been shown to inspire exercisers to go longer and harder. Remember the theme song from Rocky? Or Chariots of Fire? Just about any music that inspires you can add energy to your steps and keep you motivated. Start with songs that have a slower beat to warm up, then choose higher-energy ones for the middle of your walk, and finish with a slower, relaxing tune. You can even alternate fast and slow songs for a musical interval walk. Just remember to keep the volume low and use only one earbud if you're walking outside.

6. Make a change. A new walking route, even if it's just heading to the next neighborhood, can invigorate your walking routine. But if that's not possible, you can make a tried-and-true route fresh again with a few tweaks, like going earlier or later. Or invite someone new to join you. Different personalities and conversation topics will keep you engaged. And you'll see things differently if you walk your usual route in the opposite direction.

To learn more about how to get the most out of your walks, buy Walking for Health, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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