Set realistic goals
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity a week. Physical activity can be spread throughout the week. The guidelines also recommend strength training exercises of all the major muscle groups at least twice a week.
As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you can't set aside that much time, try several 10-minute sessions throughout the day.
Remember, though, it's OK to start slowly — especially if you haven't been exercising regularly. You might start with five minutes a day the first week, and then increase your time by five minutes each week until you reach at least 30 minutes.
Track your progress
Keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk and how long it takes can help you see where you started from and serve as a source of inspiration. Just think how good you'll feel when you see how many miles you've walked each week, month or year.
Record these numbers in a walking journal or log them in a spreadsheet or a physical activity app. Another option is to use an electronic device such as a pedometer to calculate steps and distance.
Starting a walking program takes initiative. Sticking with it takes commitment. To stay motivated:
- Set yourself up for success. Start with a simple goal, such as, "I'll take a 10-minute walk during my lunch break." When your 10-minute walk becomes a habit, set a new goal, such as, "I'll walk for 20 minutes after work." Find specific times for walks. Soon you could be reaching for goals that once seemed impossible.
- Make walking enjoyable. If you don't enjoy solitary walks, ask a friend or neighbor to join you. If you're invigorated by groups, join a health club. You might like listening to music while you walk.
- Vary your routine. If you walk outdoors, plan several different routes for variety. If you're walking alone, be sure to tell someone which route you're taking. Walk in safe, well-lit locations.
- Take missed days in stride. If you find yourself skipping your daily walks, don't give up. Remind yourself how good you feel when you include physical activity in your daily routine, and then get back on track.
Once you take that first step, you're on the way to an important destination — better health.
March 19, 2016
See more In-depth
- 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.health.gov/PAGUIDELINES/guidelines/default.aspx. Accessed Dec. 28, 2015.
- Americans are walking more to improve their health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/features/walking-counts/. Accessed Dec. 29, 2015.
- Starting a walking program. American College of Sports Medicine. https://www.acsm.org/public-information/brochures-fact-sheets/brochures. Accessed Dec. 29, 2015.
- Walking: A step in the right direction. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/weight-control/walking-step-right-direction/Pages/walking-step-right-direction.aspx. Accessed Dec. 28, 2015.
- Seiger LH, et al. Walking for Fitness. 6th ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt Publishing; 2012.