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If you believe a gym is necessary to get in shape, think again. You can get the all the benefits of walking for exercise without ever setting foot on a treadmill.
You don’t need a gym, a Lululemon wardrobe, or a lot of expensive equipment to get in shape, improve your cardiovascular performance and lose weight.
Walking is a fabulous exercise for virtually everyone and it’s free!
To get started, all you really need is a pair of comfortable shoes or athletic sneakers.
Let’s get you on your feet and on your way, but first let’s take a look at how to get started, how to keep yourself motivated and how to make your workouts effective.
The Benefits Of Walking For Exercise
- Walking is low impact and just about anyone can do it. Unlike running, our bodies are made to walk throughout our lifetimes. You can reasonably walk without worrying about injuring yourself. All you need to do is put one foot in front of another and then do it again. It can be as easy or challenging as you want it to be, but it can be done at any level of fitness. If you’re just starting out, go for a walk around your block or neighborhood in the morning to get your day started or in the evening after dinner. If that’s too much for you at your current fitness level, then walk to the end of the block and back. Tomorrow, add a few more steps. Progress is progress and you are the only one that needs to keep score.
- Walking is a great way to get some cardio in. You will also get some muscle and core improvements. After walking regularly a few weeks, you’ll notice more defined leg muscles and your clothes may feel looser.
- Walking is part of your normal day’s activity. You are exercising as you go through your day, to the mall or grocery store, as you walk your dog, or by taking kids to the park. By tracking (more on that later) your steps, you can push yourself to do a bit more every day and it won’t be hard to do.
- Walking for exercise can be social. Ask a friend to walk with you a few times a week. Not only will you find it harder to make excuses not to go for your walk when you know your walking buddy is waiting for you, but you’ll look forward to getting together with a friend. Walking lets you talk while working out and it makes it possible for both of you to take time out of your busy day to exercise and catch up on your friendship. Aside from the social and accountability aspects, walking with a friend pushes you to do more, to keep challenging yourself and each other on your fitness journey.
- Walking is perfect stress relief. Walk to think, learn or decompress from your day. Enjoy some solitary time if you prefer to walk alone. Take your phone and headphones and listen to some music while you walk and hash out some problems. Or listen to your favorite podcasts or an audio book.
- Walking is easy to begin and easy to make a habit. It literally takes just one step to start a walking program and by scheduling your walks into your day and making them fun by either walking with others or creating a pleasant alone experience, you will find it easier to make it a habit. No packing a gym bag, driving to the gym, or waiting for a free machine. Just get home from work, get some comfortable clothes on, slip on your sneakers and go.
Getting a walking program started is easy. Just take a stroll wherever you like and get your body moving. But after a bit, you’ll need to pay a little more attention to get the results you’re after.
Get out of your comfort zone and push just a bit harder every time you work out.
- Begin by keeping track of the distance you walk and how long it takes you. There are no wrong answers here. If you walked around the mall twice and window-shopped the whole time so that it took you an hour, no problem. That’s where you are right now. Download the Fitness Planner and write it down.
- Now set a goal for your next walk. Let’s say that mall walking suits you just fine because the weather is bad outside. Set a goal to get it done in 45 minutes next time. Then figure out what you need to do change to make that happen. Do you want to just increase your walking speed the entire time or maybe only between your favorite stores? That may sound silly but it’s actually choosing to either increase your overall walking pace or alternate speeds. Doesn’t that sound more scientific?
- If you have been walking on a nearby trail, you may want to increase your distance. Or try some of the stationary exercise stations that many trails have along their routes.
Whatever your goals are, you’ll know it’s time to set new ones when you get comfortable at your new pace.
Stepping Up Your Walking Routine
By creating a plan and goals for your walking routine, you can use it as a guide to improving your fitness performance and results. Use your Fitness Planner to track your current level and plan how you will increase your fitness efforts.
Every time you’re successful at something, you are more likely to keep doing it. So begin your walking program by guaranteeing success.
What can you easily do right now?
- Can you walk for 15 minutes? For you, that might take you around the block. For someone else, that might be to the end of the street and back. There are no judgments in fitness, only wherever your beginning is.
- Whatever that beginning is, do it for a few days.
- Then step it up by 15 minutes (less if you are struggling). By increasing by a small amount of time, your mind won’t try to talk you out of it. It’s only 15 minutes!
- Even if you are in good shape and your walking level is already great, don’t increase your time or pace too much.
- Stay at your new level for at least a week. That’s just about long enough for your body to catch up and start feeling comfortable again.
- Keep adding time until you are walking 45-60 minutes a day.
- If you find it hard to take an hour for a walk due to work or family obligations, then break up your walk. Your body won’t care if you get a quick 15 minute walk in before going to work, a half hour walk with coworkers during lunch, and a 15 minute walk with the family after dinner.
Pick Up Your Pace
Once you’ve reached the point of walking 45-60 minutes a day, it’s time to focus on your pace.
- Start by literally picking up your pace. If you cover 2 miles in your daily walk, walk at a faster pace every other half mile? Push yourself to be a little uncomfortable. Apply the 15 minute rule again. Try to do your 60 minute distance in 45 minutes.
- Keep that up for a week or two before changing things again.
- Alternatively, you can aim for longer distances. With a faster pace, how far can you go in 60 minutes?
- Your goal is to push your body to work a little harder. Shaking things up on regular basis makes your body work harder, fat comes off more easily, and you build muscle.
Work On Your Posture
Start paying attention to how you walk.
- Keep your shoulders back and straight. Tighten your stomach and focus on slow and even breathing. Keep your arms loose and don’t tighten your hands.
- Imagine that everyone is watching you on a catwalk. Walk proudly and with confidence and an even rhythm.
- Watching your posture when walking is not only good for your core and balance, it also helps prevent back pain from walking long distances.
Add Some Weights
Do you want to work your arms and upper body while walking?
- Try carrying some light weights during your walk. You can even use two small water bottles.
- Do simple arm raises or curls. You can stop walking to do them or do them as you walk. Even carrying weight with your arms straight down will tone your arms and shoulders.
Add Interval Training
What is interval training?
- Interval training is alternating between working out at a moderate level for a few minutes, then doing some high intensity workouts for 30 seconds, then back to moderate exercise. It’s a great way to burn a lot of calories and push your workout to another level.
- Start by walking at a moderate pace for a few minutes to warm up. Then walk as fast as you possibly can for 30 minutes. Reduce your speed back to a moderate rate for 2-5 minutes, then repeat the high intensity walk.
- Keep alternating between your 30 second high intensity period and moderate walking for your entire walk.
- Be sure to slow down for the last 10 minutes or so to give your muscles time to cool down as you end your workout.
- When you want to try more high intensity exercises, you can try running for 30 seconds, or do jumping jacks, jump rope, sit ups, whatever will get your heart pumping and sweat going.
- If you are considering running, interval training is a great way to get started in running since your walking is giving you plenty of recovery.
Count Your Steps
Have you seen your friends check their watch and talk about hitting their 10,000 steps?
We walk everywhere all day long, without necessarily thinking about it being exercise.
I mean if you walk from your office to the parking lot, it isn’t really exercise, is it?
Well, actually it is.
Counting steps is an easy way to make sure you hit a walking target, especially if you don’t have the time to go for daily long walks.
It adds up to about five miles each day for most people, which includes about 30 minutes of daily exercise—satisfying the CDC’s recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
- Fitness experts recommend a tracker when counting steps. Not just because they count your steps for you, but because they are incredibly motivating when you are getting near your target.
- Who is not going to try to get their last 243 steps in before bedtime? You want to see your tracker send up fireworks for your accomplishment, darn it, and you’re not going to let 243 steps stop you. Confession: I have been known to walk around my house over and over again until I hit my 10,000 steps. No kidding.
- You can track your steps in many easy ways. Many phones have pedometer apps that will track your steps when you keep your phone on you. Small, inexpensive pedometers are available in most sporting goods department of stores or online, or you can buy a tracker like the ones from Fitbit.
- You can spend very little money or you can get a tracker that gives you detailed information about your work out, GPS coverage of your route and more. It’s entirely up to you.
- Once you have the tracker of your choice, wear it and track a normal day.
- How many steps did you get in?
- Can you think of ways you might easily add some without even trying?
- How about parking your car a little further from the door of the mall? Or walking to the restaurant where you’re meeting everyone for lunch? Walk around your office while you’re on the phone.
- You can only fit in a 15 minute walk tonight? That’s ok, how many steps can that give you?
- Once you’re able to do 10,000 steps with ease, start coming up with even more ways to walk through your day. Count the steps when you take long walks and watch the numbers climb!
You’ll soon find all kinds of ways to sneak more activity into your day and moving will be your new normal.