Health Tips

Walking: A Step in the Right Direction

Walking: A Step in the Right Direction

Walking Have you been thinking of adding more physical activity to your life? Have you thought about walking? Walking is a great way to be more active and is the most popular physical activity among adults.

Most people can walk, including many people with disabilities who are able to walk on their own or with walkers or other aids.

The information and tips below can help you make walking and physical activity part of your daily routine.

What are the benefits of walking?

Two benefits of walking are that it’s easy to do and has a low risk of injury. Walking also is free or low-cost because you don’t need special equipment, clothing, facilities, or training. Because walking can easily fit your schedule, needs, and abilities, it’s a good way to start getting active if you’ve been inactive.

Woman helping man walk with a walker
Most people with disabilities are able to walk on their own, with walkers, or with other aids.

Health benefits

Like other kinds of regular physical activity, walking at a brisk pace also may offer health benefits, such as

  • lowering your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes
  • strengthening your bones and muscles
  • helping you burn more calories
  • improving your fitness
  • lifting your mood

Should I see a doctor before I start walking?

Woman walking with a young boy.
Most people do not need to see a doctor before they start a walking program.

Most people do not need to see a doctor before they start a walking program. However, you should check with your doctor if you

  • have a chronic health problem such as a heart condition, diabetes, or high blood pressure
  • are over 40 years old and have been inactive

You also should talk with your doctor if, while walking, you get dizzy; feel faint or short of breath; or have chest, neck, shoulder, or arm pain.

How much should I walk?

Adults need 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity to stay healthy. Aerobic physical activity is activity that speeds up your heart rate and breathing. Brisk walking is an example of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Walking briskly for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, will help you meet the goal of 150 minutes per week. But any 10-minute period of physical activity helps. If you can’t walk for 30 minutes at a time, try breaking your activity into three 10-minute walks instead.

For more health benefits and to control your weight, you may need to walk more than 150 minutes a week. Aim for doubling the amount to 300 minutes each week, or about 1 hour a day on 5 days of the week. The more you walk, the more health benefits you may gain!

How do I begin?

Walking is an easy form of physical activity to start because many people can walk wherever they are, without days or weeks of preparing and planning. Follow these four steps:

1. Set goals and make a plan to reach them.

Setting realistic goals—such as walking 10 to 15 minutes, three times a week—and having a plan to reach them will improve your chances of sticking with a walking program.

Think about the following as you set your goals and create an action plan:

Goals

  • How far and how often you will walk to start
  • Where you want to be with your walking program in 6 months
  • Where you want to be in 1 year

Action Plan

  • Where you will walk
  • What days and times you will walk
  • Who your walking buddy or support person will be

2. Be prepared.

Make sure you have everything you may need, such as

  • shoes that fit right and have good arch support; a firm, well-cushioned heel; and nonskid, flexible soles
  • clothes that keep you dry and comfortable
  • a hat or visor for the sun, sunscreen, and sunglasses
  • a hat and scarf to cover your head and ears when it’s cold outside
  • layers of clothing in cold weather that you can remove as you warm up

3. Get moving.

Divide your walk into three parts:

  • Warm up by walking slowly.
  • Increase your speed to a brisk walk. Brisk walking means walking fast enough to raise your heart rate while still being able to speak and breathe easily.
  • Cool down by slowing your pace.

When walking, be sure to use proper form:

  • Keep your chin up and your shoulders slightly back and relaxed.
  • Look forward, not at the ground.
  • Keep your back straight, rather than arched forward or backward.
  • Let the heel of your foot touch the ground first, and then roll your weight forward.
  • Walk with your toes pointed forward.
  • Swing your arms naturally.

4. Add on.

As walking gets easier, start to go faster and farther. Add hills or some stairs to make your walks more challenging. Review the sample walking plan that follows for an idea of how to start and slowly increase walking.

Sample daily walking program

The sample walking program below is a guide to help you get started. Your walking sessions may be longer or shorter than this sample program, based on your ability. If you are walking less than three times per week, give yourself more than 2 weeks before adding time to your walk.

Warm-up Time
Walk Slowly
Brisk-walk Time Cool-down Time
Walk Slowly and Stretch
Total Time
WEEKS 1–2
5 minutes 5 minutes 5 minutes 15 minutes
WEEKS 3–4
5 minutes 10 minutes 5 minutes 20 minutes
WEEKS 5–6
5 minutes 15 minutes 5 minutes 25 minutes
WEEKS 7–8
5 minutes 20 minutes 5 minutes 30 minutes
WEEKS 9–10
5 minutes 25 minutes 5 minutes 35 minutes
WEEKS 11–12
5 minutes 30 minutes 5 minutes 40 minutes
WEEKS 13–14
5 minutes 35 minutes 5 minutes 45 minutes
WEEKS 15–16
5 minutes 40 minutes 5 minutes 50 minutes
WEEKS 17–18
5 minutes 45 minutes 5 minutes 55 minutes
WEEKS 19–20
5 minutes 50 minutes 5 minutes 60 minutes

Should I stretch before I walk?

Research is ongoing about the best time to stretch. You may warm up before your walk by walking more slowly for a few minutes before picking up the pace. You may choose to stretch after you warm up and after you are done walking and cooling down. Cool down by walking slowly the last few minutes of your walk.

After you are done walking, gentle stretching may help make you more flexible. To stretch correctly, avoid bouncing or holding your breath. Do each stretch slowly and move only as far as you feel comfortable. Below are some examples of stretches you may want to try.

Side Reach

Silhouette illustration of woman stretching to the side.

Reach one arm over your head and to the side. Keep your hips steady and your shoulders straight to the side. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Wall Push

Silhouette illustration of woman stretching legs by pushing on a wall.

Lean your hands on a wall and place your feet about 3 to 4 feet away from the wall. Bend one knee and point it toward the wall. Keep your back leg straight with your foot flat and your toes pointed straight ahead. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat with the other leg.

Knee Pull

Silhouette illustration of woman stretching knee by pulling knee to chest.

Lean your back against a wall. Keep your head, hips, and feet in a straight line. Pull one knee toward your chest, hold for 10 seconds, and then repeat with the other leg.

Leg Curl

Silhouette illustration of woman stretching legs by curling leg up towards the buttock.

Pull your right foot toward your buttocks with your right hand. Stand straight and keep your bent knee pointing straight down. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat with your other foot and hand.

Hamstring Stretch

Silhouette illustration of woman stretching hamstring by sitting on a bench.

Sit on a sturdy bench or hard surface so that one leg is stretched out on the bench with your toes pointing up. Keep your other foot flat on the surface below. Straighten your back, and if you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh, hold for 10 seconds and then change sides and repeat. If you do not feel a stretch, slowly lean forward from your hips until you feel a stretch.

What about safety?

Some places are safer to walk when you are outdoors than others. Keep safety in mind as you plan when and where you will walk.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. If you wear headphones while walking, keep the volume low enough so you can hear car horns, people’s voices, barking, and other sounds and noises.
  • Walk with others, when possible, and take a phone and ID, such as a driver’s license, with you.
  • Let your family and friends know where and when you walk.
  • Wear a reflective vest or brightly colored clothing if it is dark outside.
  • Be careful walking around large bushes, parked cars, and other barriers that may block your view of traffic or other people.
  • Watch out for uneven or slippery streets and sidewalks; or holes, rocks, or sticks that could cause falls.
  • Walk in an indoor mall or shopping center if you don’t feel safe or comfortable walking outside.

How can I make walking a habit?

The key to building any habit is to stick with the new behavior. Try these tips to help you stick with your walking routine:

    • Walk in places you enjoy, like a park or shopping center. Try different places and routes to keep it interesting and to stay motivated.
    • Listen to your favorite music as you walk, remembering to keep the volume low so you can hear sounds around you.
    • Bring a friend or family member. Having a regular walking buddy may help keep you going—even when you would rather stay home. You can cheer each other on and serve as role models for friends, family members, and others.
    • Have a “Plan B.” When bad weather or other roadblocks get in the way, be ready with options, like walking inside a mall rather than outdoors.
    • Track your progress on paper, online, or with a fitness app for your phone or computer. Record dates, distance, and how you felt when you were done. Tools such as the Body Weight Planner can help you track your physical activity online. Devices such as pedometers and fitness trackers may help you count steps, calories, and how far you walk during a certain period of time.
Person checking a smartwatch on left wrist.
Devices such as pedometers and smartwatches may help you count steps, calories, and how far you walk.
  • Reward yourself with something pleasant after your walk, like a relaxing shower or 30 minutes of time to yourself.
  • Be prepared for setbacks. If you have a setback, go back to your walking routine again as soon as you can.

With time, walking will become part of your daily life and may even make it easier to try other types of physical activity.

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