Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you give me some tips on starting a walking program? I need to lose weight and get my blood pressure under control, but I hate to exercise.
--Unfit at 59
More than 25 years of research has shown that walking may be the single best exercise you can do to improve your health. It burns calories (about 100 for every mile you walk) which will help you lose weight, it builds endurance, enhances muscle tone and it doesn't pound your joints.
It also helps improve or prevent many age-related health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and dementia.
But walking is not only good for what ails you. It's also one of the easiest and most convenient exercises you can do, and is completely free. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes that fit well and a little desire. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Start walking: Start out slow if you need to. For many people this means head out the door, walk for 10 minutes, and walk back. Do it every day for a week. If that seems easy, add five minutes to your walks next week and keep adding five minutes until you are walking as long as you desire. It's also a smart idea to start and finish your walk with a few simple warm up and cool down stretches. Stretching will make you feel better and help prevent injury.
How far: Any walking is better than none, but most fitness professionals recommend walking about 30 minutes, five days a week. Research has shown that the 30 minutes can be broken up throughout the day - 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Or, for optimal health benefits aim for 10,000 steps per day, which is the equivalent of about five miles.
How fast: The right walking speed depends on your fitness level. Ideally you should walk at a brisk pace that has you breathing heavily, but you are still able to carry on a conversation.
While starting a walking program takes initiative, sticking with it takes commitment. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated:
Find some walking buddies: They can provide motivation and support along with companionship and security.
Use a pedometer: These nifty little gadgets -- available in sporting goods stores for around $25 -- measure how far you've walked in steps and miles, providing motivation by spurring you to meet a particular goal and showing you if you've met it. Or, if you're a smartphone user, consider downloading a pedometer app like accupedo.com or runtastic.com.
Join a walking club: To find one in your community call your local medical center, mall, health clubs, YMCA, running shoe stores or Area Agency on Aging to see if they sponsor or know of any clubs or groups. Or try the American Volkssport Association and American Heart Association Walking Club, which let you search for non-competitive walking clubs in your area, or start one.
Keep a journal: Use it to keep track of your walking minutes, steps, or mileage and total it up at the end of each week to see how you're progressing.
Get a dog: Studies have shown that dog owners are much more likely to take regular walks than non-dog owners.
Listen to music: An iPod or MP3 player can also make a nice walking companion. Check out walk.jog.fm to find great walking songs that will match your pace.
Have a backup plan: If bad weather, allergies or other factors limit your outdoor walking have a backup plan like walking at your local mall, buying a home treadmill or joining a health club.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.