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How to start a walking fitness program

Gina Roberts-Grey has contributed to more than 100 parenting, health and women's issue publications. She lived with her family in upstate New York, and can be reached be reached via her website: .ginaroberts-grey.com.

Walk yourself fit

Walking is a free and easy way to lose weight, improve your health and feel great about your appearance. It requires little fitness gear beyond a great pair of walking shoes (make sure you have both feet measured when shopping for a new walking shoe) and a park, sidewalk, mall or path to walk and a desire to stretch your legs. This step-by-step guide will help you incorporate a walking program that will quickly have you on the road to fitness.

Woman walking

Get Ready…Be prepared for walking

Comfort is key when walking, so Jessica Herschberg, a personal trainer, fitness boot camp owner, triathlon coach, and mother of four in Nashville, Tennessee, suggests wearing a sports bra that provides plenty of support. "A shirt made of material that will wick away moisture will help keep you comfortable." Shorts or pants should be loose enough for you to walk freely and should not drag on the ground to avoid trips and falls. "To help you stay motivated to walk, lay your clothes out at night before so they're all ready for your walk the next morning," says Herschberg.

 

Get Set…Stretch your walking muscles

Before you head out the door, trainers say you should stretch your muscles. "This will help avoid injury and soreness the next day," says Jen Cassetty, MS, ACSM, CSCS, a fitness expert and trainer in New York City. To get your body in gear for a walk, Cassetty says stretching your quadriceps (the muscle in the front of your thigh), hamstrings (the muscles running along the back of your thigh, calves, hips, and groin. "You should stretch each muscle for about 30 seconds and make sure to stretch both legs," says Cassetty. Be sure to gently stretch until your muscles feel warmed up then do deeper stretches.

Go! Time to walk

If you've never walked for fitness before, Herschberg says take it slow. "Begin with a warm-up by walking at a slow pace for two to three minutes." Then you're ready to move into your power walking stride. "This should challenge you a bit but shouldn't leave you feeling completely exhausted," says Herschberg. Stay at this pace for 10 minutes and start gradually by doing two 10-minute walks until you can build to walking for 20 consecutive minutes.

Add on to your walking program

Once you've built up to walking for 20 minutes, Cassetty says you can start to tack on additional minutes every few days until you can walk for 30 minutes at a brisk pace. "As you advance, I recommend wearing three to five pound ankle weights and walking slowly for a 10 minute phase of your walk to increase the number of fat calories you'll burn," she says.

Posture perfect while working out

Remember to keep your eyes forward, shoulders down and back relaxed to have proper walking posture.

Cool down after every walk

"You should always cool down for three to five minutes after every walk, no matter how long you walked," says Herschberg. To cool down properly, she says you should walk slowly, until your breathing has returned to normal and you no longer feel out of breath and then repeat the stretches you did to warm up. "That will help re-energize you and reduce the chance of injury," says Herschberg.

Every step counts

Remember, if you're unable to go outside for a "formal" walk, even if you're walking around the office building, at least you're walking. "Every step counts," says Cassetty.

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