Walk this way to better health

A good, brisk walk will give your heart and lungs a good workout, enabling life-giving oxygen to get to all your body's cells and boosting the efficiency of your circulation

  • Walking is also one of the best ways to control your weight.
  • Brisk walking can burn 100 calories or more a mile - that's 300 calories per hour - and walking uphill can increase this by 50 per cent.
  • Walking is low-impact so there's little stress on your joints. And it's also good for your emotional health: walking for 45 minutes or more triggers the production of the body's own feel-good hormones, endorphins, which in turn create feelings of well-being and relieve anxiety and stress.

Six-week plan for walking

To help you get started we've compiled a six-week plan. All you need is a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes and a bottle of water.

Weeks 1-3: get the habit

Research shows that it takes 21 days to establish a habit so the first three weeks are designed to help you do just that.

Week 1: Aim to accumulate 30 minutes' walking three days a week to get used to walking. The easiest way is to take three walks of 10 minutes.

Weeks 2-3: Now you've established a routine, increase the length of time you walk to 15 minutes and aim to do two walks four days a week.

Increase the distance you walk 

Weeks 4-6: upping the ante

The next three weeks are devoted to increasing the distance you walk, the speed at which you walk and the difficulty of your walks so you are able to cope with longer, more arduous trips.

Week 4: Stick to 15-minute walks but increase the number of days to five days a week.

Week 5: Step up your walking habit by increasing duration to 45 minutes in total five days a week. You can still break it up into 15-minute chunks if that suits you or experiment with doing one longer walk of, say, 30 minutes and a shorter one of 15.

Week 6: Time to increase the effort a bit by adding some more speed and/or endurance to your workout. Continue with five 45-minute walks a week but either try to walk further each time or take a different route and include a few hills and inclines.

Weeks 6 onwards

Aim to increase to an hour of walking every day - remember you can still break it up into smaller chunks if it's hard to find the time.

Note: If you find any week hard, repeat the programme for that week and stay with it until you are able to progress comfortably to the next level.

Brisk walking is best

The best walking workout is a brisk one, although if you haven't been exercising recently a slowish saunter is better than nothing. You'll know you're walking briskly if:

  • your breathing is heavier but you can still conduct a conversation
  • your heart is beating faster than usual but is not racing
  • you feel warm and slightly sweaty

Exercise with a good posture

  • Watch your posture: keep neck and shoulders relaxed, and pull in your abdomen. Walk with your chin up and look forwards not down, keeping your arms tucked in close to your body.
  • Breathe deeply from your abdomen to increase the amount of air you can draw into your lungs. Find a comfortable stride - not too long as your body is then forced to rotate through the hips.
  • As you step out plant your heel down first and let your body weight roll through. Once you've transferred your weight to your front foot push through using the strong muscles in your buttocks.
  • Then roll through your back foot keeping your toes in contact with the ground until you lift your back foot to take the next step. Keep your feet relaxed (don't let them claw as you walk) to prevent tightness in the shins.
  • Do a few simple stretches after walking to avoid aching and muscle tightness. 

Keep heart healthy 

  • Walking is most effective when it's sufficiently brisk to get your heart working a bit harder.
  • To work out your target heart rate subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate (MHR).
  • Then aim to keep your pulse rate at between 60 and 80 per cent of your MHR. So, if you're 50 for instance, your MHR is 170 beats per minute.
  • Your target range is 102 to 136 beats per minute (170 x 0.60 and 180 x 0.80).
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.