From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

The human body comes equipped with its own free mode of transportation: legs and feet. Just put on some shoes and you're ready to go. If you make walking your favoured mode of transportation, you'll get your daily dose of physical activity without losing hours from your day or purchasing pricey workout gear. The bonus? You can lower your risk of heart disease – all it takes is 30 minutes of physical activity like moderately paced walking on most days of the week.

In an article from the British Medical Journal, researchers looked at 48 studies to determine what increases the chances of success for people starting a walking program. Here are the three key elements that, if put into practice, will help you stay committed to a walking program:

1. Prepare yourself for the task
In the British study, researchers found that the participants who were successful in increasing their daily physical activity over the long term were people who were inactive before the study began. In other words, couch potatoes were at an advantage. The other big help to new walkers was a motivation to change. If you are already feeling motivated to start walking more often, you are probably in the second stage of change, contemplation or the third stage, preparation. Research shows that when you start off at these levels of motivation, you are heading down a path to success.

2. Tailor the program to your needs
According to the British study, people seemed to have more success when their walking program was customized to suit them – and their values. This involved things such as tailoring the program to the individual based on his or her activity habits and preferences, promoting walking as an environmentally friendly form of transportation and helping parents map children's walking paths to school.

To help customize your walking program to fit your needs, think about what makes activity more enjoyable for you. Do you prefer to be active alone or with a partner? Do you like to map out your goals (counting steps, keeping a diary)? Does listening to music make the time pass faster? Do you feel good knowing you are not polluting when you walk to work? Figuring out what motivates you to be active will help you choose a program you can stick to.

3. Schedule walking to fit your day

Walk the walk Taking an hour to go to the gym does not suit everybody. But if you make walking part of your day, you'll make sure you get it done. Start by thinking of ways you can incorporate it into your daily life. For instance:

  • Can you take public transportation once a week instead of driving? When you take public transportation, it's really easy to add walking to your day. Not only will you do your heart some good, but you'll help the environment, too. Instead of taking the bus to the subway, walk the distance instead. If you take the bus to work, get off three stops before yours to get some extra walking time in.
  • Is your grocery store less than a mile away? If you just need to pick up a few items such as milk and bread, use your legs instead of driving. Sometimes, when you factor in traffic and parking, walking is actually faster.
  • Are there closer locations where you can do your shopping? For picking up dry-cleaning, cleaning supplies or other items, try to go to local stores that are within walking distance. You'll also help support your local businesses.
  • Need to relax? Instead of turning on the TV, try heading out for a short walk in the park or around your neighbourhood. Studies show that physical activity reduces stress levels.
  • Do you go to big box shopping plazas? Plazas provide a great opportunity for walking – from store to store. You'll save money on gas and won't have to be concerned about finding a new parking space every time you leave a store.
  • Do you have a dog? Instead of letting Fido run around the backyard for exercise, take him out for an hour-long walk every night of the week. The exercise will do you both some good.

Remember that you don't have to do all your activity in one burst. Just try to accumulate 30 minutes of walking time over the course of your day. How fast should you walk? “This is a pace where a person should not normally be short of breath. It's not brisk; it's just focused and determined,” says Heather Arthur, PhD, cardiac rehabilitation researcher and Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario Chair in Cardiovascular Nursing Research. In order to find that ideal pace, find a one mile route and try to accomplish it in 15 minutes. But if you are just getting started on a walking program, you can also worry about the pace later. Just try walking at a comfortable speed. “For a sedentary person, it's most important to increase the frequency of walking first,” Dr. Arthur says. “If walking is already part of your daily routine, you can increase the intensity of your walk or the duration. “We leave it up to people to decide what is better for them.”

Posted: September 1, 2007.

Ogilvie D, Foster CE, Rothnie H, et al. Interventions to promote walking: systematic review. BMJ 2007;334:1204-1207

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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