Exercise: Starting a Walking Program

General Guidelines

Please check with your physician before starting a regular exercise program. 

  • BeginnerTry walking briskly at a 3 to 3.5-mph pace (walking a mile in 17-20 minutes), beginning with 10 minutes per day for the first three weeks. Slowly increase the time you walk by 5 minutes per week until you are able to walk 30 minutes per day, six days per week. 
  • IntermediateIf you are already regularly active, start at this level. If not, you can continue here after about a month of the "Beginner" program. Aiming for a pace of 3.5 to 4.5 mph (13-17 minutes per mile), walking 3 miles (about 45 minutes), 3-5 times per week. If you find that you can't walk that fast, increase the distance that you walk instead. 
  • AdvancedIf you are ready to take your walking to the next level, increase the intensity of your workout by doing the following:
    • Walk/hike with a 10-15 lb. backpack
    • Add uphill/downhill and stairclimbing to your regular walks
    • Walk on the beach; the sand will increase your intensity level
    • Use 2-3 lb hand weights and continue your arm swing motion
    • Try racewalking (5-9 mph). There are many local organizations and competitions you can join.

Walking Techniques

Proper techniques in walking can make your workout more effective and enjoyable while helping to prevent injuries.

  • PostureKeep your head upright, looking ahead. Your chin should be in a neutral position, not too high or tucked in towards your chest. Your shoulders remain back and relaxed, not hunched over.
  • Foot PlacementKeep your feet close to an imaginary line in the center of the pavement in front of you (follow lines on a track). 
  • Finding Stride LengthStand upright with feet slightly apart. Lean forward at the ankles (like a ski jumper). Transfer your weight forward and as you do, put your right foot out in front of you and catch yourself before you fall forward. This is your stride length. You should maintain the same stride length regardless of the type of walk you do (Strolling - 3 mph; Brisk/Fitness walking - 4 mph; Racewalking - 5 mph 
  • StrideAlways keep at least one foot on the ground. The heel strikes the ground first, followed by rolling onto the ball of your foot, finishing with a strong push off the toes (trailing foot). Focus on quicker rather than longer strides. Avoid slapping the ground with your feet and concentrate on smoothing out the movement.
  • Arm SwingThis makes your walk a total body exercise. You will burn an additional 5-10% calories. Let your arms bend at the elbows and swing them in step with your feet in an arc from your waist to the front of your chest; your hands should reach just below chin level. Your forearms should brush your hips to keep your stride forward. 

Walking Throughout Your Day

The Surgeon General recommends doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. The good news is that any activity you do throughout the day counts and can be accumulated (i.e. three 10-minute walks spread out during the course of the day) to produce real health benefits. Walking is a great low-impact exercise that can help you meet your health and fitness goals.

Try to accumulate a full 30-60 minutes of daily activity by doing some combination of the following:

  • Walk to work 1-2 times per week or take public transportation part of the way and walk the rest.
  • Take a 10-15 minute brisk walk during your breaks.
  • Take a 10-15 minute brisk walk before or after meals.
  • Walk up and down stairs when you can.
  • Enjoy a brisk walk to meetings across campus.

When at home, find ways to stay active. Do some gardening or yard work. Walk the dog. Walk to the grocery store. Take an after-dinner walk along safe streets. You can also try to sign up for an evening dance class or learn a new sport by taking lessons or enrolling in a class (i.e. soccer, tennis, water aerobics). When planning to exercise away from home, get ready by packing a bag with your walking shoes, workout gear, water, snacks, etc. so you are prepared to exercise either during the workday or on your way home.

Notice How You Feel

After a few weeks, you may notice a change in leg muscle strength, improved energy levels, and mood. Make sure you are also checking in with yourself about possible areas of pain to avoid injury. The point of exercising is to consistently move and feel good!

Safety Tips

Below are some safety precaution tips for walkers:

  • Walk on sidewalks where possible. If walking on streets, always face oncoming traffic. 
  • Avoid walking after dark. If you choose to do so, walk on well-lit streets wear reflective accessories and light-colored clothing, and carry a flashlight, a whistle, and a cell phone. 
  • Walk with a mission. Try to look like you know where you are going and walk briskly.
  • In case you are attacked, yell "FIRE!" instead of "Help". People will respond to you more readily if they hear "FIRE!"
  • Try to let someone know where and when you will be walking so they know your whereabouts and when to expect you back.