Hopefully, you’ve been inspired by the warmer weather to get walking a little more in this last month. Walking is an accessible and inexpensive form of exercise with many recognized physical and mental health benefits.
In my last column, “Walking 101: Getting Started,” I reviewed some tips for beginning a walking program. In this piece, I’ll provide some insight into how you might progress your program and discuss several ways you can help yourself stay on track with your plan.
Progressing your program
One of the simplest ways to progress your program is to increase the distance you walk. I suggest limiting your weekly increase to 10% or less. By slowly increasing the distance you walk, you allow your muscles and joints to adapt to the healthy stresses of walking and reduce your risk of injury
Hills are another great way to increase the work required in a walk. Choosing routes that have rolling hills will cause you to breathe a little heavier and push a little harder as you make your way to the top, adding to the intensity of the exercise.
If you don’t live near hilly terrain or find that hills are uncomfortable on your joints — or if you just don’t like them! — you can increase the difficulty of your walk by covering more distance in the same amount of time. To cover more ground, you may increase your overall speed or include some short (1-2 minute) bursts of faster walking throughout your walk.
Staying on track
Consistency is key to getting the health rewards that come from a walking program. A few simple strategies to stay on track with your program include setting a routine, involving a friend or loved one, and setting goals.
Making an “appointment” with yourself to go for a walk can be helpful. Consider it like any other commitment and try not to let it be rescheduled. A great add-on to this idea is to involve a friend. If you have committed to meeting a friend for a walk, you may be less likely to let it be “bumped” from your schedule. In fact, there is an initiative across Nova Scotia called NS Walks. Zoomers is part of this program, which organizes free walking weekly groups across the province.
Setting goals can also be very motivating. Take a few minutes to write down what you want to achieve with your walking program and use it as a reminder on days when your motivation is running low. If you need help setting specific goals, your physiotherapist can be a great partner in helping you identify what makes the most sense for you.
We will all be occasionally sidelined by unpredictable weather, health, and social events. To get the most out of your walking program, it is important to set yourself up for success, recognize when you’ve gotten away from your plan, take steps to get back into your routine as soon as possible, and — possibly most importantly — enjoy it!
To find more information on the NS Walks initiative, visit nswalks.ca.