"Just a few extra steps each day is a simple and easy way to take an active role in maintaining a significantly healthier life," says Timothy Gardner, MD, past president of the American Heart Association.
Set a baseline. If you're not active now, "start walking three times a week at a stroll for 20 minutes," says Courtenay Schurman, author of The Outdoor Athlete. Work your way up to five or so times a week, 30 minutes per session, for a total of 2.5 to 3 hours per week.
Choose distance or time. Some walkers focus on distance, others target time. "Ultimately, it's about speed," Schurman says. "If you can walk 5 miles but it takes you 5 hours to do it, it's not a fit level of work. So use both distance and time as well as heart rate."
What should your heart rate be? "Most recommendations suggest starting out at 70% to 75% of your maximum heart rate," Schurman says. "But this may not be enough if you're fit."
You can also use the "talk test" to gauge your exercise intensity. "If you can string together six to eight words or chat briefly, you're in your aerobic zone," Schurman says.
If you are gasping for air, slow down. If you can say several phrases with one breath, you may not be working hard enough.
4 Ways to Stay Motivated
- Wear a pedometer. Bit by bit, boost your daily steps. Keep it up until you reach 10,000 steps a day.
- Keep a walking journal. Whether you journal online or with pen and paper, it's motivating to see your progress.
- Get a walking partner. "A walking buddy provides accountability," Valentour says. "Neither wants to let the other person down."
- Sign up for a race or charity walk. An upcoming event gives you a goal to shoot for, which may motivate you to stick with a program.