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An Effective Walking Program for the Very Unfit

Jana is a frugal DIY addict who is always testing fitness and work-from-home ideas as well as natural health tips for both humans and pets.


Who Can Use This Program?

There is a disheartening trend on the Internet. Most walking programs for beginners start with ten to fifteen minutes of brisk walking. Everybody can walk fifteen minutes, right? The truth is many can't. There are individuals who fought a long illness or injury, during which physical activity was severely limited. Too many others get stuck in a sedentary lifestyle that fosters weight gain and body weakness. This article is perfect for anyone who just want to start somewhere and exercise for free in a place that they choose and at the time that they choose.

By the End of This Article You Will:

  • Learn what equipment you need
  • Understand some of the great benefits of walking and health contraindications
  • Develop prompts to use when inspiration is lacking
  • Discover ways to kill boredom during a walk
  • Find a simple yet effective program that will prepare you for greater challenges
  • Get some additional safety tips

Here Are Just Some of the Benefits of Walking

  • Weight loss
  • More control over diabetes, blood sugar, blood pressure, and stress
  • Stronger bones, muscles, and circulation
  • Great-looking legs
  • Better quality sleep
  • Improved heart health
  • Longevity
  • Help avoiding serious diseases caused by sedentary lifestyle

Love Those Shoes

Invest in a good pair of walking shoes to prevent blisters and foot problems.

Invest in a good pair of walking shoes to prevent blisters and foot problems.

The Equipment

This may sound against the grain, but consider ditching the calorie counter and pedometer. The main focus of the program is to increase endurance, not add extra the pressure of counting calories or steps. This is a mere suggestion. A program should not be so strict that it interferes with what works for you. If you want to count your C's or snap on a pedometer, go right ahead. Just know that neither is an absolute necessity for success in this case. The program can prepare you for the popular trend of walking 10,000 steps a day and even that walk-athon you've been eyeballing.

Bring Along...

  • A way to tell the time
  • A note book and pen
  • Water and a snack

A Word Of Caution

Human bodies are designed to walk. Our ancestors walked daily distances that would delete most of us today. Things have changed since great-(multiply that by a few hundred) grandfather Flintstone. While it is wonderful not to travel miles after ever meal, modern life's hectic pace does not always allow for proper nutrition or exercise. Over time, a person's fitness level goes to Rock Bottom Valley and vegetate, sometimes for years. The good news is that a gentle walking program is suitable for all ages, genders and most health problems. If you can walk, you can start. However, as with any new exercise program, one must not ignore any pre-existing health issues. If you have a chronic or serious condition, research the limits and any benefits walking can offer. Work with your limitations, not against them.

Even if you are otherwise healthy and just unfit, be aware of a common beginner's mistake. Any extended physical effort can affect blood sugar levels. If not taken care of, things can go wrong, sometimes really fast. A sudden drop in blood sugar can hit anyone but is more possible when you have not exercised in a while. Here's why. During exercise, your body burns glucose as fuel and also releases hormones that affects blood sugar levels. Exercising on an empty stomach is the same as expecting your car to drive across town with little fuel in the tank. The same with keeping it in the garage for years - it just won't work properly. Regular exercise and glucose management will prevent an episode. When a workout session is too strenuous and blood sugar drops, the experience is scary and can even be deadly.

Signs include:

  • Muscle weakness and exhaustion
  • A sudden sense of panic, racing thoughts
  • Vision distortion and confusion
  • Sweating palms
  • Palpitations
  • Balancing difficulties, dizziness
  • At worst, blackouts or seizures

Water And A Snack

A drop can easily be prevented or rectified by a snack. View it as your tiny paramedic who takes care of you while you walk. The best is a combination of carbohydrates and protein. A sandwich with a protein filling is perfect (egg, meat, etc.). A lot of walkers also enjoy an energy-giving piece of fruit like an apple or banana. There is no need for expensive health snacks. The general guideline is to snack 30 minutes to an hour before walking. Since everyone is unique, you must find the sweet spot that works for you. Equally important is hydration. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Similar to your snack, experiment with the time frame that aids your walking. The 30 mintutes-to-an-hour rule also applies. Never drink a huge amount of water right before you start, because it might make you nauseous and spoil the walk. As your walks get longer, you can sip fluids during and also afterwards.

The Program

Here's a silly-sounding suggestion. Start this powerful program by strolling along for exactly sixty seconds. Before you think it crazy, read on. When one is extremely unfit, you know it. Even worse, most people's minds tell them that they cannot exercise for long because they will get exhausted or something equally unpleasant. The initial minute is to show the monkey mind that you are capable and also start the habit of walking. Habit + self-confidence = success.

Keeping your sessions at one minute, walk a minimum of three days a week. It does not matter which days. As the weeks go by and you advance (add more time), it is better to walk every other day in order to allow your body some rest. As with any exercise, rest is equally necessary to gain fitness. Even when you walk most days because you enjoy your growing energy (that's fantastic!), take at least one off day a week. For now, stay at a stroll. There should be no exertion, pain or tiredness. Only a calming, easy pace. You can ramp up the intensity later.

Afterwards, take out the note book. Write down the date and time of day. For some walkers, the latter is useful to determine their peak performance times. Each person experience times during the day when they feel sleepy, tired and alert. This is part of a natural internal system called the circadian rhythm. Always write down how you felt during the walk - sluggish, energized or just alright. Soon, your own unique pattern will emerge but expect dips around 11am, 1pm and 4pm. Then, if possible, walk during your peak times. This will help lessen sessions with no zest. When a person experiences energy and focus, a habit will stick but not something that feels like a drag. Similarly, you can also record the weather. Did you know that some people are weather sensitive? When air pressure drops in the wake of stormy weather, a sensitive person can feel drowsy, exhausted and even ill. Humidity and temperature also affect how the body performs. You might be surprised when you check your walk log and see which weather conditions accompanied your good and bad days.

Next, write how you aced that minute like a professional. The log book is there to record your progress and help you to keep track of your "program days." As such, you are welcome to add personal notes, goals and thoughts.

Get Tough

New places and different paces will keep your fitness walking fresh and interesting.

New places and different paces will keep your fitness walking fresh and interesting.

The Next Level

At the start of every new week, add another minute. During week two, your three sessions will now be two minutes long and so on. This way, you ease into a fitness program in a way that is encouraging and safe. That being said, there is no need to be rigid with this. As the weeks go by (and this will happen), you will find that adding one minute at a time feels like holding back. You are becoming fitter and your endurance is screaming "Hey, is this all there is?" Then it becomes perfectly fine to leap with two minutes instead of one. The only caveat is this - whatever time you add, be sure that the pace can be maintained. A big reason why people skip exercise is discouragement. Adding one minute is an obtainable goal. As fitness makes it more possible, make sure that you can maintain a jump from, say, ten to fourteen minutes. Otherwise, be patient and add two minutes. Slow and steady will always win the race. Discouragement never does.

There it is. A program without fireworks or fame. Yet, it will foster fitness more consistently than a hyped up DVD or a dramatic regime that cannot be maintained. You decide when to add more minutes, when enough is enough. Some walkers walk thirty minutes a day, others will walk for hours. What time you ultimately choose as your daily limit depends on your goals. This program can go from easy (few minutes at a stroll) to very challenging (walking for longer periods or upping the intensity).

No Fireworks = Boring

We've all been there. Excitement carries us through the first few days, then the honeymoon ends. We know exercise is good for us. It prolongs life and adds quality, even in old age. So, why is it so hard to show up?

1. Not enough time.

Life can be insanely stressful, complicated and busy. During a hectic day, it is easy to postpone healthy habits and relaxing hobbies. Don't beat yourself up. A guilt trip makes one less likely to give attention to an issue.

Solution: Here MOTS can be a lifesaver. Short for "marching on the spot" you can do it while watching T.V., doing chores or talking on the telephone. Bathroom breaks are perfect for MOTS. Everybody needs to go, so why not march a few minutes while you are there? MOTS are also perfect for anyone who desires to ramp up the intensity a little bit.

2. No instant gratification.

Who doesn't want quick results? The notion of walking weeks before seeing any can be discouraging. Here's the thing. Slow sticks. Any habit that has developed slowly will survive, even in the face of obstacles. Short cuts mostly lead back to square one.

Solution: Gratification can still be a powerful tool. Allow yourself small but satisfying rewards. Completed your first week? Buy some stationary if you like writing or have a bullet journal. Like plants? Reward yourself with a new pot plant or something for the garden. For now, turn gratification away from losing weight and use it to make yourself feel good and your environment pretty. Don't go for expensive treats that will make the whole thing cost too much. Low cost items are perfectly capable of enriching your passions, hobbies and relaxation.

3. It's lonely.

If you are social or need constant mental stimulation, a quiet walk can be lonely. Sometimes you don't feel like distracting yourself with music, the scenery fails to engage you and forget about bringing the dog because he stops to smell every wrapper on the sidewalk.

Solution: Find a walking partner or group. If there are none in your area, there is unfortunately no magic fix. But take heart. With time, discipline grows and with it, the need for distraction and stimulation will diminish.

4. The weather sucks.

Solution: This could be your "off day", otherwise a treadmill or MOTS will suffice.

5. You feel self-conscious.

Perhaps you still cringe from a nasty remark or hurtful "advice" about your weight. Or you don't want to be the unfittest person in the neighborhood walking club. For most of us, this stems from social expectation warped by the media. Today, more than ever, we are bombarded by images of photoshopped models or Olympic athletes who look happy because they are physically desirable. Remember, that gold medalist may be the real deal with her sculpted body but what you see represents years of behind-the-scenes training. Most products have ad campaigns designed to make people forget about what really goes into getting results - dedication and hard work, not the pill or potion they are selling.

Solution: Recognize the haters and media for what they are. They are not the ultimate authority on your journey or your body. There is nothing wrong with you. There will always be an insensitive comment or an image capable of setting you back. It's normal to feel deflated and discouraged, so wallow and get it out of your system. Then get up and continue with your own journey. If you can, avoid people who do not support you.

Helpful Prompts

Discipline can make you show up for a walk, even though there's little inspiration. Discipline takes time to develop, so don't worry if you have none at the moment. In the meantime, here are some helpful tips to keep you lacing up those walking shoes. The trick is to learn your triggers. What makes you excited to walk? Try the suggestions below and keep the ones that work. Also, create your own list of prompts and read it whenever you need a shove.

  • Feel proud of your progress. Read your log to see where you started and where you are now.
  • Read success stories online. Somewhere, there was somebody worse than you. They worked hard and succeeded. Even better, they shared their sometimes-brutal journey to inspire others. Such powerful stories prove goals are achievable and can inject inspiration almost automatically.
  • Appreciate how the rewards you've earned changed your environment and allowed for small joys. Remind yourself that more will come if you put on those walking shoes!
  • Place a prompt somewhere in your daily routine, but in a way that is hard to miss. This could be your walking shoes, a note, your snack, anything telling you it's time to wiggle those toes. Place the note in your lunch box if you choose to walk during your lunch break (a lot of people do this). You can even include a reminder of the reward you are currently working towards.

Additional Safety Tips

If you ease into an exercise program and manage your sugar levels and hydration, there shouldn't be any issues. However, work gently with injuries and listen to your body. Some days it will be energetic and not up to scratch the next. There is no shame in stopping a session when you feel too tired or old injuries get crabby. The same with the flu. Allow enough time to recover fully, even if it takes around two weeks. Rather, stay safe and make sure the bug is out of your system than cause more damage. Exercising with the flu can be a very dangerous thing to do. Finally, always be conscious about who and what is around you. Do not walk in areas that are dark, lonely or where somebody can attack you. Never assume it won't happen. Stay safe, walk between people, at the gym or in your garden if you can.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Jana Louise Smit

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