You already have all the complex, high-tech machinery you need to get into shape: your two legs. Walking works the major muscle groups of the body, raises your heart rate, burns calories, and lowers your blood pressure with a third of the impact running has on your joints. "Plus, walking makes you feel more in control of your life and gives you the energy to get things done," says Therese Iknoian, author of "Fitness Walking."
For optimum health, Iknoian advises walking a minimum of 30 minutes a day, four or five times a week, at a moderate pace. Here, she outlines a progressive walking plan that'll get you on your feet and out the door.
Phase 1: Get Started
Goal: Walk 20 to 30 minutes, at least 3 times a week or more
Duration: About 4 weeks, or until you can walk 30 minutes at a time
Benefits: Lowered stress levels; better sleep; improved mood
How to Do It: Walk only as far as you comfortably can, even if that means walking in one direction for a few minutes and then turning around. Iknoian recommends increasing each walk by about 2 to 3 minutes, until you're walking the full 30 minutes.
Tip: Walk with purpose -- as if you're late for an appointment.
Phase 2: Ramp Up
Goal: Increase the frequency and length of your walks; find your rhythm; refine your technique
Duration: 4 to 8 weeks
Benefits: Noticeable improvement in overall fitness; increased energy
How to do it: Add one to two walks to your weekly regimen. In addition, go for one longer walk each week. If you're walking 3 times a week for 30 minutes, make one of those walks 45 to 60 minutes long.
Tip: Bend your arms at the elbows and take shorter, quicker steps.
Phase 3: Intensify and Maintain
Goal: Stick to a regular practice
Benefits: Weight loss and weight management; improved cardiovascular fitness; reduced risk of life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer
How to Do It: Walk 30 minutes a day, 5 to 6 times a week, including an additional longer walk when you can. For an added challenge, try for higher-intensity intervals once a week: Choose a landmark, such as the end of the block, and walk at top speed until you reach it. Repeat 4 to 8 times on your walk.
Tip: Boost the intensity of your workout by walking up hills or on grass, sand, or trails. And to quicken your pace, bend your arms to 90 degrees and swing them alongside your torso.Take shorter, quicker steps rather than long strides.
Text by Kate Hanley; photography by John-Francis Bourke