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A walking program to try

A walking program to try

(This article was first printed in the Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School "Exercise: A Program You Can Live With." For more information or to order, please go to www.health.harvard.ed/E.)

Before you take your first steps, follow these guidelines to plan your program.

  • Find a safe place to walk. Options include quiet streets, trails in parks, athletic tracks at local schools, or a shopping mall.
  • Invest in a good pair of shoes. Shoes for walking should have thick, flexible soles that cushion your feet and elevate your heel a half to three-quarters of an inch above the sole. The upper portion of the shoe should be constructed of “breathable” materials such as nylon mesh or leather.
  • Wear clothes appropriate to the season. Wear lighter clothes than you’d need if you were standing still; you’ll warm up as you exercise. Dress in layers so you can peel off garments if you get hot.
  • Warm-up and cool-down. Include five-minute warm-up and cool-down segments as part of your total walking time. A slow walk is a good warm-up and cool-down. Or you may want to stretch for your cool-down (but not as a warm-up since you should only stretch muscles that have been adequately warmed up).

Practice good walking technique:

  • Walk at a brisk, steady pace. Slow down if you’re too breathless to carry on a conversation.
  • Keep your back straight, and gently contract your stomach muscles.
  • Hold your head up. Lift your chest and shoulders.
  • Point your toes straight ahead.
  • Let your arms swing loosely at your sides. If you want to boost your speed, bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle and swing your hands from waist to chest height.
  • Land on your heel and roll forward onto the ball of your foot, pushing off from your toes. Walking flat-footed or only on the ball of the foot may lead to soreness and fatigue.
  • Take long, easy strides, but don’t strain. To go faster, take quicker steps instead of longer ones.
  • Lean forward slightly when walking faster or going up hills.

Sample walking program

Follow the plan charted below to build up your strength and endurance. If you haven’t been exercising, start at the beginning. If you’re already exercising, but want to increase your activity, start at the level that best matches your current routine and build from there.

A walking program to try

  Sessions per week Warm-up Walking time Cool-down Total minutes
Week 1 2 5 min. slow walking 5 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 15 min.
Week 2 3 5 min. slow walking 5 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 15 min.
Week 3 4 5 min. slow walking 10 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 20 min.
Week 4 5 5 min. slow walking 10 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 20 min.
Week 5 6 5 min. slow walking 10 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 20 min.
Weeks 6–7 6 5 min. slow walking 15 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 25 min.
Week 8 6 5 min. slow walking 20 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 30 min.
Week 9 6 5 min. slow walking 25 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 35 min.
Week 10 6 5 min. slow walking 30 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 40 min.
Week 11 6 5 min. slow walking 40 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 50 min.
Week 12 7 5 min. slow walking 50 min. brisk walking 5 min. slow walking 60 min.

(This article was first printed in the Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School "Exercise: A Program You Can Live With." For more information or to order, please go to www.health.harvard.ed/E.)

Create an exercise or fitness plan you can live with

Exercise: A Program You Can Live With

Not sure how to start an exercise regimen? Exercise: A Program You Can Live With will help guide you through starting and maintaining an exercise program that suits your abilities and lifestyle. You’ll find answers to your questions on how much and what kind of physical activity you need, as well as advice on fitness products currently in the marketplace. Read more »