Think about taking a walk around your neighborhood or in the park by your office—the fresh air, the stretch in your legs, the pretty views. Now imagine getting that dose of stress relief and exercise every day for at least 30 minutes, whether it’s pre- or post-work, at lunch or a few minutes each. (Sounds good, right?) That’s all you need to jump-start an effective fitness routine and active lifestyle. Research backs up the benefits—everything from lowering your risk of problems like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease to boosting your mood and creativity. To ensure you regularly lace up your sneaks, follow our guide. We’ll get you strolling and in shape in three months, so you’ll continue to step right through spring.
Your Workout This Month
Develop a daily walking habit.
Steps to Success
Start small and focus simply on getting out the door. To guarantee results, keep an exercise log. Every day, write down how many minutes you walked, how walking made you feel, and what route you took.
- You'll ease into exercise, gradually ramping up how much walking you do. At the start, walk only a small amount each day. As you get stronger, tack on more minutes each week.
- You'll alternate between longer and shorter walks. If the suggested walking times don't follow the ebbs and flows of your busy life, swap around days, doing the longer walks on less-hectic days and the shorter walks when you're pressed for time.
- You'll lose about half a pound a week this first month. As you get into the second month, you'll start losing more. "Most people quit weight-loss plans because they don't see fast-enough results," Fenton says. "But remember, slower weight loss leads to greater long-term success."
Your Walking Calendar
During this first month of the series, walk for the suggested amount of time each day, maintaining a steady, fairly comfortable pace. You shouldn't get completely out of breath, but you shouldn't be able to tell a walking buddy a long story about last night's argument with your child, either.
- Monday: 10 minutes
- Tuesday: 15 minutes
- Wednesday: 10 minutes
- Thursday: 0 minutes
- Friday: 15 minutes
- Saturday: 10 minutes
- Sunday: 20 minutes
- Weekly total: 80 minutes
- Monday: 0 minutes
- Tuesday: 20 minutes
- Wednesday: 15 minutes
- Thursday: 25 minutes
- Friday: 20 minutes
- Saturday: 0 minutes
- Sunday: 25 minutes
- Weekly total: 105 minutes
- Monday: 20 minutes
- Tuesday: 25 minutes
- Wednesday: 30 minutes
- Thursday: 15 minutes
- Friday: 25 minutes
- Saturday: 0 minutes
- Sunday: 35 minutes
- Weekly total: 150 minutes
- Monday: 25 minutes
- Tuesday: 30 minutes
- Wednesday: 40 minutes
- Thursday: 20 minutes
- Friday: 35 minutes
- Saturday: 0 minutes
- Sunday: 45 minutes
- Weekly total: 195 minutes
Stretch It Out
By increasing the flexibility of your walking muscles, you'll find it easier to get moving. Walking will feel good. Plus, the longer your muscles, the leaner you look. As with walking, it pays to do these moves frequently. Spend four minutes performing these quick stretches after each of your walks.
- Standing side lunge: Stretches inner thighs
Stand with your feet about four feet apart, toes pointed forward and knees slightly bent. Bend slightly forward at the hips, maintaining a flat back, and shift your weight to your left leg. Sit back into the stretch, being sure to keep your left knee behind your toes. Place your hands on your left thigh. Hold 20 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
- Half happy baby: Stretches hamstrings and gluteals
Lie flat on your back. Bend your left leg, place both hands on the bottom of your left foot and bring your left knee toward your chest. Hold 20 seconds. Repeat with the right leg.
- Child's pose: Stretches lower back, shoulders, and knees
Kneel on the ground with your toes together and knees slightly apart. Sit your hips on your heels and slowly lower your chest toward the ground. Extend your arms on the ground overhead. Hold 20 seconds.
- Side-lying quad stretch: Stretches quadriceps, chest, and hip flexors
Lie on your left side, propped up on your left elbow. Your hips and knees should be stacked. Bend your right knee. Reach your right hand behind you and grab your right foot or ankle, gently pulling your foot toward your back. Keep your chest lifted. Hold 20 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
Sneak It In
Short on time? Don't fret — just tie up your sneaks and get out there. Frequency and making walking a habit are most important this month. Following our strategies below will help you accumulate the minutes you need.
- Make your trip to the mailbox a longer journey. Never drive up to your box. Walk up the street past a few neighbors' driveways on the way to grab the mail and walk another five minutes before returning home.
- Every hour, get up and walk just three minutes. Do this eight times a day, whether around your house or to visit colleagues in your office, and you'll be guaranteed 24 minutes of exercising.
- Whenever you're watching television, walk during the commercials, even if that means just marching in place.
- While you're brushing your teeth, chatting on the telephone, or doing relatively sedentary activities that don't require much thought, pace around the room.
- Set your alarm to go off 10 minutes earlier and leave a fresh pair of athletic socks on your night table. Getting into your gear is the first step to getting out the door.
Zap Fat Indoors
When you can't get outside, hop on a treadmill and go at an energizing saunter — about 3.5 or 4 mph. No treadmill? Turn on the stereo or television and try this "in place" workout from Leslie Sansone, author of Eat Smart, Walk Strong (Walk Aerobics Inc.).
- Begin by walking in place to get your heart rate moving.
- To bring it up a notch, perform some walking knee lifts: LIFT YOUR LEFT KNEE until it is nearly horizontal (or as high as is comfortable). BRING THE LEFT KNEE DOWN. LIFT YOUR RIGHT KNEE until it is nearly horizontal. REPEAT for a few minutes.
- Walk in place again.
- Add in some side steps, which work both your thighs and your buttocks: STEP TO YOUR LEFT with your left foot, but remain facing forward. Open your arms wide and out to your sides as you step. BRING YOUR RIGHT FOOT to meet your left, still facing forward, and bring your hands together. STEP TO YOUR RIGHT and continue to REPEAT for a few minutes.
- Walk in place until you reach your daily walking goal.
Easy Slimming Secrets
While this walking program promises weight loss without dieting, a few adjustments to your eating habits will boost your results. Introduce one small change each week. "Taking baby steps when it comes to nutrition guarantees they stick with you in the long haul," says Ellie Krieger, author of Small Changes, Big Results (Clarkson Potter).
If your pantry and fridge bulge with junk food, your waistline will too. Instead, stock healthy items in convenient-to-eat packages for you and your family.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being starving and 10 stuffed, quit eating when you hit a 5. This will help you slow down and avoid overeating.
In your glove compartment, purse, or desk, keep a small stash of filling foods like nuts, dried fruit, whole-grain crackers, or low-cal energy bars.
Use your hand to estimate a portion. The palm is one serving of meat, your thumb is a serving of salad dressing, and a fist is one portion of rice or pasta.
The most important item to purchase is a comfortable pair of walking shoes, says Fenton. You shouldn't have to break them in. Here's how to find the perfect fit.
- Pick a pair with a low and rounded heel.
- Try shoes on in the afternoon, when feet are bigger.
- The shoe should have some type of supportive arch, which means it shouldn't bend in the middle.
- Look for a shoe that bends easily where you do, at the ball of your foot.
Walk Off the Weight: Part 2 here.
Walk Off the Weight: Part 3 here.