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Although hitting the pavement with a partner is a great motivator, if you spend the entire time chatting, you may be doing more harm than good, says Ralph Stokes, DC, a chiropractor with the Texas Back Institute in Dallas. Talking while exercising not only puts your posture at risk (turning your head causes excessive neck strain and a forward lean in posture), but it also reduces oxygen intake, making you fatigue more quickly. Save the conversation for warm-up and cool-down phases.
"Stretching is an excellent way to cool down, rebalance your body, and alleviate muscle strain," explains Beth Shaw, founder of YogaFit, Inc., a yoga-centered training company based in southern California. Walking stresses the lower back and tightens the hamstrings and hips, says Shaw. "If you don't stretch, muscles can shorten, resulting in injuries." Lie flat on your back. Bend your right leg and rotate it to the left. Look over your right shoulder and breathe. Repeat on the other side.
Look for ways to increase your daily number of steps, advises James O. Hill, PhD, founder of America on the Move and a professor at the University of Colorado in Denver. "The more you walk, the more apt you are to maintain a healthy body weight." Grab a pedometer and strive to take 2,000 more steps daily, working toward a goal of at least 10,000 a day. Hill suggests: Return the shopping cart to the store and use the upstairs bathroom when you're hanging out downstairs and vice versa.
"Make walking a healthy obsession," says Dan Kirschenbaum, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. "There are certain patterns and habits we've ingrained into our lives -- for instance, if we don't brush our teeth, we don't feel ready to go to bed." If you start walking regularly, you won't feel satisfied until you've completed your route each day.
You know you should add exercise to your daily planner, but you just haven't gotten around to it. "Decide when you're going to walk the night before," says Kirschenbaum. "Commitments are easier to stick to when the 'doing' part is some time away." So pull out your walking shoes before bed and make sure a water bottle is in the fridge, and the next morning the "should I or shouldn't I?" debate won't happen.