Fast-paced aerobics classes and fancy gyms have their attractions, but a simple brisk walk might be all you need to achieve your fitness goals. Grab some weather-appropriate walking gear or find a quality treadmill to use indoors. Then point yourself in a direction and get going. If it’s been a while since you last exercised, consult your doctor before making any drastic changes to your activity level.
Your initial goal should be to reach a level of activity that challenges you without overdoing it. For example, to develop cardiovascular fitness, aim for a pace that causes you to breathe hard enough to make a conversation possible but not singing. If you don’t exercise often, hitting that level of intensity might involve a pace much slower than an elite runner's.
Typically, walking briskly means walking one mile in 15 minutes, according to Leslie Sansone, author of “Walk Away the Pounds.” But for beginners, it’s more important to focus on developing endurance and getting enough exercise than it is to set speed records. Over time, your muscles and cardiovascular system will adapt to regular exercise, and you’ll be able to walk faster and for longer distances.
Choose a workout schedule that helps you achieve the particular health benefits you’re seeking. For example, 150 minutes of brisk walking per week is enough to start seeing cardiovascular benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic. On the other hand, if you’re focused on weight loss, walking more than this might be more effective. If you’re not sure how to design an appropriate exercise program, work with a certified fitness instructor. Also, consult a nutritionist to ensure your diet is optimized for your fitness goals and exercise schedule.
The number of calories you’ll burn during a brisk walk depends on many factors, including your pace and body weight. For example, in one hour, a 160 lb. person will burn approximately 204 calories while walking 2 mph, according to the Mayo Clinic. Walking at 3.5 mph for an hour would burn 314 calories. You can also throw in some extra movement to increase your energy expenditure. Swinging your arms and lifting your knees high will boost the number of calories you burn, as will stopping several times along the way to do some light calisthenics.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.