Walking for health and wellness

Use these tips to help make walking for health and wellness a regular part of your lifestyle.

A woman walking outside by a river.
Photo: Pexels/Mathias Reding.

The start of a new year is a great time to begin a walking program. Walking is one of the best exercises we can do for our health – both physical and mental. In fact, walking regularly can improve and reduce pain associated with many chronic conditions like arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, obesity and diabetes.

Mayo Clinic reports that physical activity, including walking, for 30 minutes or more on three to five days of the week, can significantly improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. If you are struggling to find a half-hour block of time for physical activity, you should know that even smaller amounts of time, such as ten to 15 minutes for physical activity like walking, can be beneficial to health.  

When starting a walking program, it is a good idea to talk with your medical provider about how much physical activity is right for you, especially if you have been inactive for a while. When walking you should start out slowly and build up your time, frequency and intensity.

The Arthritis Foundation has a range of resources for walking that will keep you moving and help you to safely engage in physical activity, including basic stretching exercises, strengthening moves and information on the Walk With Ease program. Walk With Ease recommends including the following four stages each time you walk.

Include the following four stages each time you walk for exercise:

  1. Warm up by walking slowly for three to five minutes. This warms up your muscles and makes you more flexible before exercising.
  2. Gently stretch for four to five minutes. This will prevent shin pain and sore muscles as you increase the length of time you walk for.
  3. Walk for five to 30 minutes or more at a pace where you can talk but not sing.
  4. Cool down for three to five minutes. Allow your heart rate to return to a more resting level, so the blood in your legs does not pool.
  5. Gently repeat stretches, holding them for a little longer.

Other walking tips include:

  • Pick up your pace: Walk as if you have somewhere to go! This should be at a moderate pace.
  • Increase your time and track your progress: If you are a beginner at walking for exercise and want to improve, try increasing your time each week by five minutes.
  • Monitor for intensity: You should be able to talk while walking. If you have discomfort on your side or you can’t catch your breath, slow down.
  • Check your heart rate: If you feel your heart racing then slow down.
  • Do something different: Find ways to make your walking more enjoyable and less boring. Finding new trails or creating new walking routes (with a buddy) is fun to do.
  • Find a buddy to walk with: Walking with a friend can help motivate you to walk. If you do not have good balance, having someone with you who can help support you when needed can be safer.
  • Have comfortable shoes with support: If you don’t want blisters or aching feet, make sure your shoes are comfortable. They should have lots of support and generally thick treads.
  • Stop the excuses: It is easy for exercise to be put on the back burner, but make it a priority! This is the most important thing you can do for a long, healthy and pain-free life.

Whether you choose to walk outdoors or indoors at a gym or a mall, walking is a great option for physical activity to help reach your health goals in the new year. If you are just starting out and/or would like information and support, consider signing up for a Walk With Ease Self-Directed Enhanced Series through Michigan State University Extension. Participants will receive weekly educational emails while walking on their own. Walk With Ease will help motivate you to get in great shape, walk safely and comfortably, improve your flexibility, strength, and stamina and reduce pain.

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