A consistent walking routine is one of the easiest (and most effective) ways to get in shape, minimize stress and promote heart health. However, if you’re spending more time on the couch than usual, you’re not alone. Juggling work schedules, family duties and rehabbing injuries are all common reasons why you may not have been as active as you’d like. The good news is you can always restart — and there’s no better time than January’s “resolution season.” Try these tips to get back into a daily walking habit.
Before you begin a new daily walking schedule, address any hurdles or problems associated with your previous routine. For example, if you were feeling bored and unmotivated, you might need to find a way to make walking more exciting such as signing up for a virtual race or exploring a new route. If you were injured, take a look at what caused it — maybe you need to work on posture or build up to longer distances more slowly. If you were too busy, try walking for a shorter amount of time twice a day — even 10 minutes can be enough time for a great workout. Figuring out the root cause of why you stopped can help you avoid similar mistakes and make a new routine more enjoyable and longer-lasting.
Your goals and reasons for exercising daily can change over time. For instance, you might have started a walking routine to lose weight, but as you get in better shape maybe you want to embrace a more competitive goal like walking a marathon. (That’s right: Marathons aren’t just for runners.) If you’ve taken a sustained break from walking, you likely need a new goal to keep you inspired. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a realistic, time-bound goal and form a plan. Long-distance walking events might seem like lofty goals, but they’re not if you have a set training plan.
While a week or two off during the holidays shouldn’t be a big deal, if you’ve taken an extended amount of time off, you probably won’t be able to jump back into the same workouts you were doing before. To avoid injury, start slow and gradually increase duration and intensity. Begin with a few short walks per week at a low intensity, gradually increasing the duration or length of your walks by about 10% each week. Once you’ve been in a consistent routine for a month or two, you can add 1–2 sessions of higher-intensity efforts per week if you’d like. This gradual approach keeps you from doing too much too soon, giving your muscles, bones and tendons time to adapt to the increased stress of exercise once again.
Utilizing the right gear can make a big difference in your overall comfort, performance and injury prevention — plus new gear can be motivating. If you’ve been using the same old walking apparel and shoes for an extended period, purchasing some new gear is a good idea. The right layers can make walking in any weather much more enjoyable, while dedicated walking shoes are key for getting the most out of each walk.
If you always walk the same loop, it’s easy to become mentally fatigued, which is a common reason people give up on daily walks. To keep things fresh, research a few different routes in your area — both urban and nature-filled. Not only will it infuse excitement into your walks again, but new routes also challenge you physically, thanks to changes in terrain.
Walking is one of the best activities you can do to lose weight, gain fitness and improve your overall health. However, cross-training with other activities like cycling, yoga or strength training keeps your exercise regimen fun while also addressing any muscular imbalances you may have. Include activities you enjoy a few times per week to make you stronger, improve mobility and enable you to walk further and faster.
Consistency beats perfection, so if you miss a day or two here or there, don’t stress. That said, be realistic about your schedule and what time works best for you to fit in a walking workout. Is it easier for you to exercise after dinner or first thing in the morning? Are Mondays busier than Tuesdays? If so, schedule your rest days on the busier days of the week, or make these days your cross-training days. Would it be better to break your walks into more frequent but shorter sessions? If so, think about taking short walks before or after each meal. Use the first few weeks to experiment until you find the ideal schedule.
As with any type of exercise, aches and pains during exercise can occur and become a barrier to sticking with a walking routine. While rest helps, speaking with a professional like a physical therapist or sports medicine physician is also a good idea. They can help you understand any weaknesses or medical conditions you may have that you are unaware of and provide you with a personalized plan to get you back on the road even sooner.
Make progress every day while you work on mini fitness goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.