Planning Your Walking Program

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

Planning Your Walking Program-2The 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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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

Planning Your Walking ProgramFigure 1   Chart to use in time evaluation.

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