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Shape Up: Walking Plans for Every Ability

No matter your fitness level, having a target to shoot for will help you stay on track, boost your health, and tone your body. "Your goal should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (S.M.A.R.T.)," says Julia Valentour, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. "For example, 'I want to get in shape' is vague, but 'I want to be healthier by walking a half hour seven days a week' is S.M.A.R.T." We've got the tools to get you started, whether you're a beginner, a regular walker, or a turbo exerciser.

By Christine Mattheis

New to Exercise Walking Plan

Goal: Walk 30 minutes every day

Our plan eases you into exercise, so in a matter of weeks you'll be getting the recommended amount necessary for good health—and you'll start noticing changes in your body, like a slimmer waist and firmer legs. Focus on two walking speeds: easy (a leisurely and comfortable pace) and brisk (which should make you start to sweat and breathe harder).

Untitled Document

Week

X/Week

Walking Workout

1

3

Easy: 10 min.
(About 1,200-1,500 steps)

2

3

Easy: 7 min. Brisk: 5 min.
Total: 12 min.
(About 1,600-1,700 steps)

3

3

Easy: 12-15 min.
(About 1,500-2,000 steps)

4

3

Easy: 10 min. Brisk: 6 min.
Total: 16 min.
(About 2,100-2,500 steps)

5

4

Easy: 8 min. Brisk: 10 min.
Total: 18 min.
(About 2,500-2,800 steps)

6

5

Easy: 20-25 min.
(About 2,600-3,000 steps)

7

6

Brisk: 15-20 min.
(About 2,300-3,000 steps)

8

7

Easy: 25-30 min.
(About 3,000-4,000 steps)

"I haven't been active since college."

This plan is perfect for Susan Furey-Soper, 39. In the last 15 years, Furey-Soper has earned a graduate degree, moved cross-country (and back), and given birth to three boys. "I used to run every day, but the craziness of life has prevented me from maintaining a regular routine," says the stay-at-home mom living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "Now that all my kids are in school, I've finally regained my sanity, and I want to start working out again."

Gear to Get You There: Omron HJ-112 Pedometer

The average American takes about 6,000 steps per day, but studies show that at least 10,000 are required for good health. You'll have to walk an additional 30 minutes a day to clock those much-needed 4,000 steps. Watching a pedometer tick upward will motivate you to keep moving. If you haven't hit 10,000 a day by week 8, tack on a nightly stroll with your family.

 
Committed to Walking Plan

Goal: Walk a 5K

If you're already walking several times a week at a steady pace, you'll need to give your routine a nudge up to melt more fat. Power intervals (you'll walk in short bursts fast enough to make talking in full sentences difficult, and recover with periods of slower walking) will jolt your body into better shape and help prepare you to walk in your first 5K (3.1-mile) race.

Untitled Document

Week

X/Week

Walking Workout

1

4

Easy: 15-20 min.

2

4

Easy: 10-15 min. Brisk: 10-15 min.
Total: 20-30 min.

3

4

Easy: 15-20 min.
Power Intervals: Power: 30 sec.  Easy: 1 min. Repeat 4-6 times
Easy: 3-5 min.
Total: 24-34 min.

4

4

Easy: 10-15 min. Brisk: 15-20 min. 
Total: 25-35 min.

5

5

Easy:  35-40 min.

6

5

Easy: 10 min.  Brisk: 5-10 min.
Power Intervals: Power: 30 sec. Easy: 1 min Repeat 6-8 times
Easy: 3-5 min.
Total: 27-37 min.

7

5

Easy: 15 min. Brisk: 30 min.
Total: 45 min.

8

5

Easy: 45-50 min.

"I feel better when I walk, both physically and psychologically."

This plan is perfect for Amy Harris, 44, a teaching assistant from Manlius, New York, who walks almost every day. "I go with friends, and we cherish the time we spend together catching up on life," she says. The mom of two teen boys has never followed a walking plan or participated in an organized event and looks forward to training for her first 5K.

Gear to Get You There: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 11

Keep your feet—and shins, knees, and hips—happy by replacing your walking shoes every 300 to 500 miles (about six months). Changing them regularly will help prevent pain and injuries. This Brooks model uses a cushioning material that conforms to your foot's shape and disperses weight evenly with every step.

 
Mileage Machine Workout

Goal: Set a personal best.

Time how long it takes you to walk 5 miles (plot a route for free at mapmywalk.com). Then aim to improve that number by 5 to 10 percent using this eight-week plan. Following this program can also prepare you to walk your first 10K (6.2-mile) event.

 

Untitled Document

Week

X/Week

Walking Workout

1

4

Brisk: 25-30 min.

2

4

Brisk: 30-35 min.

3

4

Brisk: 30-35 min.

4

4

Easy: 10 min.  Brisk: 10 min.
Power Intervals: Power: 1 min. Easy: 1 min. Repeat 7-10 times
Easy: 5 min. 
Total: 39-45 min.

5

5

Brisk: 40-50 min.

6

5

Easy: 10 min. Brisk: 5 min. Power: 5 min. 
Brisk: 15 min. Total: 35 min.

7

5

Easy: 10 min.  Brisk: 10 min. 
Power Intervals: Power: 1 min. Easy: 1 min. Repeat 8-12 times 
Easy: 5 min. Total: 41-49 min.

8

5

Easy: 50-60 min.

"I've been walking for exercise for 30 years."

This plan is perfect for Beverly Carter, 48, a social worker and mom of six from Gilbert, Arizona, who loves to work out. "I walk four or five times a week, and I also bike, play racquetball, and do yoga," she says. Last year she completed a 6-mile race in about an hour and 40 minutes. This year she hopes to chop 5 to 10 minutes off her time.

Gear to Get You There: ePulse2

Tracking your heart rate will discourage you from slacking off during the Brisk and Power Intervals portions. The ePulse2 fastens around your forearm, and the display can be programmed to flash when your pulse dips too low.

 
How to Maintain Your Motivation

Three surefire ways to maintain your motivation as you strive toward your new goal:

Write it down. Keep a journal in which you describe each walk—the time, distance, if you had a walking buddy, and where you went. As you fill the pages, you'll be inspired to keep charging ahead toward your target.

Create a support system. Ask a friend with similar exercise habits to join you as you follow your plan. The encouragement you give each other will boost your chances of success. Plus, skipping a workout will be much less tempting if you know someone's counting on you.

Have a backup plan. Don't let a busy schedule or poor weather put a damper on your exercising. For example, if it's raining, walk at the mall. Can't find someone to watch your kids? They can tag along on their bikes.

Originally published in the May 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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