You Asked: As a Beginner, How Often (and How Far) Should I Walk?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Walking is an excellent way to start getting fit because it costs little to nothing and can be done almost anywhere and by just about anyone. (Learn more about the health and fitness benefits of walking.) So how do you begin with a walking program? Here are a few do's and don'ts to get you started.

DON'T focus too much on speed or distance. When you're new to walking, it doesn't matter how far or how fast you go. Instead, focus on slowly building up your time (starting with as little as 5-10 minutes at first) and walking at a comfortable pace for you. Greater speeds and distances will come as you get fitter!

DO ease into walking. Remember to warm up at a slower pace and work up to longer distances gradually.

DO wear proper footwear. A supportive shoe will be comfortable and go the distance with you. (Learn how to pick the best walking shoe.)

DON'T get caught up with long workouts. Walking can be broken up into several mini sessions throughout the day as you accumulate your time. You don't have to walk for an hour, for example, to get the benefits of this form of exercise.
When starting a walking plan—or any cardio exercise plan, the acronym FIT (Frequency, Intensity, Time) will help you get started on the right foot. Here's what it all means and how you can apply it to your walks.

Frequency: How many days per week should you walk?

Aim for a minimum of 3 walking days per week, and gradually work your way up to 5 or 6 days per week as you get fitter. For most people, walking can be done almost every day of the week because it's low-impact and not as intense as other fitness programs. But don't forget the importance of rest and recovery. Give yourself at least 1-2 days off each week.

Intensity: How fast (or intensely) should you walk?

Even leisurely walking has health benefits. However, exercising in an aerobic range (calculate your target heart rate to determine your ideal workout intensity) has greater weight-loss and fitness benefits. The actual speed you walk doesn't matter as much as your intensity does. If you can comfortably answer a question during exercise, while still feeling like you’re exerting yourself and breathing a little heavier, you’re usually working at the right intensity. Learn more about calculating and measuring exercise intensity here. Remember: If you can't reach your target heart rate with walking alone, then add intensity by increasing speed or incline.

Time: How long should you walk?

Ideally, work your way up to walking for at least 20 minutes per session. Eventually, you may be able to walk longer (up to an hour).  The longer you walk past 20 minutes, the more fat you are burning, so that can be a good motivator to keep pushing yourself as you get fitter. But remember: Time can be cumulative: You don't have to do 20-60 minutes in a single walking session. You can do several 10 minute mini workouts each day and add them up. (For those of you wondering how many steps you have to take to walk a full mile, we put together this post for you.)

Need more ideas to get started? Check out these walking workout plans!
Interval Walking Workouts for All Levels
A 12-Week Walking Plan for Beginners
Map Your Walk to Discover Your Pace & Distance
Training Plan: Walk a 5K
30-Minute Indoor Walking Workout

What's your best advice for beginner walkers?

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