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Plan Your Walking Workout

"Get out and start walking." It's the advice you've read countless times in fitness columns, seen reporters recommend on television and might have even heard from your doctor. It's one of the safest ways to start an exercise program and doesn't cost a lot of money.

The first step you need to take is committing yourself to the time. Get out your calendar or schedule and clearly mark when you're going to WALK. Go ahead and do that now; this column will wait.

If you're walking to increase your stamina, you should plan on a minimum of three to five times a week for at least 30 minutes each time. That half-hour walk won't help you lose much fat, but it will get your body used to exercising and prepare you for more intense workouts as you progress.

A 180-pound person walking for exercise at a brisk pace (3.5 miles per hour) will burn about 162 calories in that half-hour. Throw in some hills and you can burn as much as 270 calories. Add a few advanced techniques and you can burn 300 or even 350 calories. Your ultimate goal should determine how long and how intense your walking workouts become.

When some people start, they can't manage a 30-minute walk all at once. That's OK. Researchers have found that walking twice a day for 15 minutes each time can provide the same benefit. As you get stronger, put it together into a single 30-minute walk.

Spend the first 5 minutes walking at a moderate pace, getting your body warmed up. Then walk at your target pace for 20 minutes. The last 5 minutes slow back down to moderate. When you finish, you can engage in some gentle stretching if your muscles are tight.

Gradually increase the length of your walks until you hit the 60-minute mark. Be sure to warm up for at least the first five minutes and cool down the final five.

For weight control or fat burning, you'll not only need to increase how long you walk, but the intensity of your walking has to go up as well. Try and get your heart rate up to 60 or 70 percent of your MHR (maximum heart rate) for at least two-thirds of the walk. Walking at this brisker pace burns more calories and forces your body to use some of your fat for energy.

Interval Training

Once you've gotten familiar with a standard walking program, keep it interesting by adding interval training. Start out at a relaxed pace the first two minutes, and then speed up to something more moderate for two more minutes. Finish up the interval moving quickly the last two minutes. Keep repeating the cycle of relaxed, moderate and quick until you've finished your course.

Another variation is after your warm-up, walk at a brisk pace for 7 minutes, and then reduce the speed for 3 minutes. Increase the speed again for 7 more, then reduce it for 3. Keep repeating that pattern throughout your walk. The idea is to never let your body get used to any one workout pattern. Continuously keep changing and challenging yourself.

When you're ready for a really advanced workout, bring along a jump rope. Instead of walking briskly for 7 and reducing the speed for 3 minutes, jump during each 3-minute interval. Jumping rope for 3 minutes, 3 times in a 30-minute walk can actually double the amount of calories you burn.

Click Here for full details on how to start an interval training program.

Exercise Cautiously

With any workout program, there's always the risk of overdoing things. A simple way to make sure you're not moving too fast is to take the talking test. If you can still talk while you're exercising, you're doing OK. If you get to a point where you're too winded to speak, it's time to slow down.

Next week I'll tell you about the things you should always bring along with you and how to stay safe walking.

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