Walking is considered one of the safest exercises around. Anyone, at any age, and at any fitness level, can do it. There's no special equipment (except sturdy shoes) and no special technique. Just put on a pair of walking shoes and go!
It's a fact. Walking is easy and fun. There's very little chance of injury unless you push too hard or don't follow basic safety measures.
Pushing too hard is easy when you're walking. After all, you've been doing it your entire life! Besides, there you are, enjoying the spring day with your Walkman playing some fast music. Why not go faster and further …until …ouch! Your heart begins to beat too fast, your leg cramps, and you can't catch your breath.
To avoid problems when you are walking or jogging, stay in your target heart rate zone.
Target Your Heart Rate
Your heart beats a specific number of times each minute. With every beat, or contraction, oxygen-rich blood is pushed out through your body. The more per minute beats, the more oxygen your muscles are receiving from the blood—which translates into a higher metabolism, more energy, and greater fitness potential.
Before you can determine your target heart rate, first determine your maximum heart rate (MHR). Subtract your age from 220 to find your MHR. (For example, if you are 20 years old, your MHR is 220–20 = 200.)
After you've determined your MHR, you can figure out your target zone which is the best pace (beats per minute) you can set for maximum benefits and minimum health risk.
Fifty to 60 percent of your MHR is considered the best place to start if you've never exercised before. Using our 20-year-old as an example, her target heart rate zone would be between 100–120 beats per minute.
First Things First
Here's an easy way to take your pulse: Press two fingers on the inside of your wrist, the inside of your neck, or at your temple. As soon as you feel a beat, look at your watch and count the beats for 15 seconds and then multiply that number by four.
Seventy to 80 percent is best if you've already been exercising, but what if you still prefer the couch to the great outdoors? If you were our 20-year-old, you'd leave your MTV and go out for a walk or a jog that would give you a target heart rate zone between 140–170 beats per minute.
If target heart rate zones sound too complicated, use a “perceived rate of exertion” instead. It's easy. If you can still carry on a conversation, but you feel your heart pumping away, you are at the place you should be. If your walk or jog seems a bit too easy, pick up the pace. If you are having trouble catching your breath, slow down.
And always start your walk or jog with a warm up and some stretches. Finish with a cool down (a slow walk home).