First, the preliminaries. If you're feeling seriously fatigued or breathless when ambling through the mall or walking only short distances, or if your fatigue lasts long after your walk has ended, you should see your physician. If your fatigue isn't due to illness, it's easily fixed -- given time.
Start slow. There's no need to show off. Even walking can be a strenuous cardio workout if you haven't done it for a while. Begin at a moderate pace -- you should be able to talk but not sing -- and go only as far as you can without tiring.
Maintain good posture. Poor posture will cause you to walk less efficiently and can also lead to sore muscles and back aches. Look straight ahead, not down at your cool new walking shoes, and keep your head, back and pelvis aligned. Jo Ann Taylor, co-founder of Walking Connection, says to keep your ears, shoulders and hips in a straight line.
Strengthen your core with sit-ups, crunches, back extensions and planks at least two to three times per week. Yes, those are strengthening exercises when you're looking for cardio, but the only way to maintain good posture is to have a strong core.
Build strong calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes -- all of which engage when your'e walking. Squats and lunges hit all three, or you can work them separately with heel lifts, leg curls, leg extensions and glute squeezes.
Walk efficiently so as not to waist energy. Land on your heel and roll back to push off with your toes. Get your hips into the act, rotating out on the side of your lead leg. Bend your arms and swing them loosely from your shoulders.
Stretch to maintain flexibility. Stiff muscles will make you less efficient and tire you more easily. In addition to standard stretches for your calves, hamstrings and quads, stretch your hip flexors by grabbing your bent leg just above the knee and pulling your leg in toward your chest while standing or lying down. Cross your ankle on your opposite knee and lightly press on your bent leg just above the knee to stretch your outer hip.
Increase the time and intensity of your walk gradually. Start with 10 or 15 minutes and add five minutes each day until you can walk for 30 minutes at least five times per week. Next, up the intensity level to vigorous with intervals -- talking becomes more difficult. Start by alternating three minutes of moderate pace with two minutes of vigorous pace, gradually increasing the vigorous pace to where you can do it for your entire walk, if that's your goal.
- Choose function over fashion when it comes to walking shoes. Outdoor sports retailers REI suggest a shoe that fits snuggly without being tight and with wiggle room for your toes.
- Wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing and don't load yourself down carrying heavy items in your pockets.
- Choose the right time of day. If possible, walk at the time of day when you have the most energy but avoid very hot weather as that will fatigue you more easily.
- Stay hydrated by drinking eight to 12 8 oz. glasses of water per day and take water with you for sipping.
- Fatigue that lasts for more than 24 hours after exercise can be a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Breathlessness with little exertion can be a sign of cardiopulmonary issues.
Nancy Cross is a certified paralegal who has worked as an employee benefits specialist and counseled employees on retirement preparation, including financial and estate planning. In addition to writing and editing, she runs a small business with her husband and is a certified personal trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA).