It’s time to take to the streets. If you’re looking to spring into shape and shed those unwanted pounds, get out your walking shoes. Here, five tips to get you started.

Walk the walk

Walking is one of the easiest and least expensive forms of exercise — and with the arrival of milder weather, a great way to clear the mind of winter cobwebs. All you need is a sturdy pair of walking shoes, comfortable clothing, and, of course, a hefty dose of motivation. Here are 5 tips for getting started.

Start slow. If you haven’t been active over the winter, start slowly to avoid injury. A brisk 10-minute walk outside (or on a treadmill) will usually do the trick. Do this every day for a week, and then begin to add five minutes to your walk the following week. Continue to add five minutes to each workout until you are walking as long as desired. Remember, the goal is to walk fast enough to reach your target heart rate, yet slow enough that you can still maintain a conversation. (Check out this heart rate calculator.)

Don’t skip the stretches. Incorporate a warm-up, cool-down and stretches into your fitness routine. Start your walk at a slow warm-up pace, and then stop to do your stretches. It is important to not begin stretching until you are 5-7 minutes into your walk. (Think of your body as a car engine and your blood as oil. You need to lubricate your joints before you start.) End your walk with a slower cool-down pace and stretch well. Stretching not only feels great, but it also helps to prevent injury.

Maintain good posture. Remember your mother’s advice about standing up straight? Using good posture allows you to breathe easier, be more comfortable and avoid back pain. Here are some good posture pointers:

  • Do not arch your back or lean forward or backwards. This will put strain on the back muscles.
  • Keep your eyes focused forward, not looking down, but rather 20 feet ahead.
  • Reduce strain on your neck and back by keeping your chin parallel to the ground.
  • Shrug once and let your shoulders fall and relax, with shoulders slightly back.
  • Suck in your stomach.
  • Tuck in your behind and rotate your hip forward slightly. This will keep you from arching your back.

Keep your water bottle handy. Prevent dehydration by drinking lots of fluids before, during, and after a walk. Ideally, you should take a drink every 15 to 30 minutes. Remember that thirst is not an accurate indicator of how much fluid you have lost. If you wait until you are thirsty to replenish body fluids, you may already be dehydrated. Most people do not become thirsty until they have lost more than 2 per cent of their body weight. And if you only drink enough to quench your thirst, you may still be dehydrated.

Make it a habit. Schedule your walk or exercise time as you would any other appointment. Once you make exercise a habit, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it!

How much exercise is enough?

There has been a slew of contradictory information on how much exercise is enough to reap the healthy benefits of exercise — and to facilitate and maintain weight loss.

While most health experts agree that 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week reduces the risk for cardiovascular disease and other illnesses, when it comes to keeping off unwanted pounds, recommendations are often confusing and contradictory.

A recent study from the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, for example, indicated that in addition to limiting calories, overweight and obese women may need to exercise as much as 55 minutes a day for five days per week to sustain a weight loss. This is at the high end of the Health Canada physical activity guide, which calls for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity per day most days of the week.

Still, most experts agree that even a little exercise is better than none at all.

Easy ways to incorporate more walking into your life

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • As much as possible, do your errands on foot. If you are driving, select the parking space furthest from the store.
  • On your daily commute, get off the bus or streetcar a stop earlier and walk the extra distance.
  • If taking the escalator, walk rather than remaining stationary.
  • Take a walk during your lunch break. Not only will the physical activity burn calories, it will help your brain to perform better.

Remember, if you’re new to walking, start off with slow, short sessions and build up your endurance gradually. And as with any fitness regimen, if you have any health concerns or medical conditions, be sure to check with your physician before you begin.

Sources:; Archives of Internal Medicine.