Everyone should take time to contemplate something like an exercise and walking program before getting started. It’s a big step that takes commitment, time, and learning how to tune in to your body. In fact, if addressed correctly, these preliminary steps can be instrumental in your success as you learn to make walking a part of your life each week.
Listening to Your Body
The human body is a smart machine; if only we’d pay attention to the subtle and not-so-subtle messages it sends us daily. The more you exercise, the more you’ll find yourself in tune with those signals, and that’s good. Listening to your body can make the difference between getting hurt and walking injury free, or getting sick and staying healthy. It can also translate into better awareness in your day-to-day life.
Listen to the little owies, pains, and twinges in your joints and muscles as soon as they start. If something aches for more than two or three days, you probably should consult a doctor. Bottom line, the sooner you pay attention to an ache or excessive fatigue, the lower the chance it will affect you long term or to a serious extent. Other signals are important too, because your ability to exercise fluctuates based on fatigue, stress, your previous workout, illness, your workload, emotions, and even the weather. All those can affect your body’s engine—the heart. Learn to take your resting heart rate (before you get out of bed in the morning) and to note your pulse before, during, and after workouts. If your resting heart rate is 10 percent higher than normal, consider taking the day off or slipping in a very easy workout. If your pulse is higher than normal before a workout, take it easier; the elevated heart rate could be a result of fatigue, stress, or even an impending virus. If your pulse doesn’t recover as quickly as usual afterward, plan a day off or an easy day the next day.
Taking It Easy
Eagerness will take you far, but doing too much can bring soreness, injury, and an early end to good intentions. If you are new to walking or new to exercise, it is easy to be so enthusiastic that you get sucked into doing too much. The most common mistake beginners at any kind of exercise make is too much, too soon, too fast, too hard, or some combination of those. Normally, the body (and mind) can and will hold out for four to eight weeks. Then something will give, and you’ll be back at square one. So be smart and start slowly and easily.
Two rules apply:
- The 10 percent rule. Increase your mileage by no more than about 10 percent from one week to the next. If you have to take time off (because of illness or for a vacation), start back at a lower level rather than where you left off and build again. Exception: Someone who is already a regular exerciser may increase from week to week by as much as 20 percent.
- The hard–easy rule. Alternate every hard workout with rest or an easy workout to allow your muscles to recuperate and heal. A hard workout is either faster or longer than normal for you. For a beginner, a hard workout is any walk. For novices, the hard–easy rule means walking only every other day. If you’re a moderate walker, either take a day off or do an easy workout after a hard one. And an advanced walker should rotate long or fast workouts with one or two days of easy ones. But that doesn’t mean not taking a day off, especially as you get older.
Evaluating Your Schedule
For most of us, life’s time constraints hamper what we’d like to do, what we know we should do, and what we really can do. So take a moment to evaluate your time using the chart in figure 4.1. This tool gives an amazingly realistic assessment of your life’s demands. Go ahead and redo it as your schedule changes.
We all have 168 hours in a week. Nobody has any more or any less. Take a moment to log the time you spend on duties and requirements, from sleeping and commuting, to driving the kids to ballgames and taking showers. Then subtract each from the 168. Be sure to count 10 hours or so for those pesky general tasks such as stopping at the dry cleaners and the bank.
Do you have hours left for walking? Great—you’ll have no problem reaching your personal potential. Or is your time account in the red before you even get to exercise? Look at how you allot your time and decide if you can steal an hour or so for exercise from another category. Do you find that you spend an extra 30 minutes in the evenings doing nothing you can put your finger on? Reassess these black holes of time and see what you can suck back out. Do you have a goal of walking six days a week for an hour but now see that you only have two free hours? You must decide where your priorities are and perhaps start with less walking time as you learn to juggle the demands in your schedule.
Try to get in at least three 20-minute walks a week. As you progress, you can aim for three to five weekly exercise sessions of 20 to 60 minutes (as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine for quality cardiovascular improvement). But any activity, even going a few blocks with a friend, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can help improve your health.
Evaluating Your Time
Figure 1 Chart to use in time evaluation.