Sticking with walking: an eight-week adhesive program

The time has come to wake up your walking program. Heres an eight-week plan sure to keep you on your feet. Forever.

Perhaps you havent exercised since high school gym class. Or maybe youre a fairly active walker who has just hit a wall called the holidays. Youve had guests, traveled, worked late, and just havent managed to take that first step again. We know just how you feel.

Whether its a week or a decade, no one can avoid downtime completely. Because everyone needs a kick-start at some point, weve put together a sure-fire program for you, whether youre a first-timer or a fitness addict.

Whats special about our approach? We are handing you the tools to carry you through the emotional and physical roller coaster so many exercisers face especially during the first eight weeks, when many walkers stumble.

Along with the ingredients to smoothly get you re-energized this time, we are equipping you with a lifelong skill: the priceless ability to overcome any significant barrier to your workout routine, to start over and stick with it because experts now say that the single most important ingredient of long-term success is not just the determination to start, but the ability to start again.

What is it that differentiates a dedicated, cant-wait-to-lace up-my-shoes-and-get-out-there walker from someone who can find the slightest reason to call the whole thing off?

After spending hundreds of hours helping participants implement regular walking into their lives, Andrea Kriska, Ph.D., a nationally recognized exercise researcher at the University of Pittsburgh (and an avowed walker herself), believes those who can really stick to it have three critical attributes:

One is that being active has become a way of life for these folks. Theyve figured out how to make it part of their routine. They are clever in thinking about how and where theyre going to get activity in a day.

Second, those who are most engaged appreciate the immediate benefits of walking the stress reduction and the emotional break that it can provide. Theyre not looking in the mirror after every walk to see whats changed.

And last, and probably most important, these people can suffer a setback and stop exercising for days, weeks, or even months, yet they still know how to get started again. These are the people who will stick with walking in the long run.

It doesnt depend on how long theyve been walking, or how fast they go or any of that, Kriska says. Its not even about how fit they are. Once someone has smacked hard into a wall and fallen down, then figured out how to get back up and get active again, those are the folks who are going to be all right.

Our program is designed to anticipate the natural surges and ebbs of energy and enthusiasm youre likely to face when starting a walking program. At the completion of the eight weeks, we hope you will be a stick-to-it walker.

Each week we answer three questions:

Where's your head? Some of the common issues youll face in getting your walking to stick.

What's your focus? This is your tool kit, packed full of tactics that are likely to help you get over the common hurdles and keep you walking.

How much to walk? This is a minimum goal for the week. If youre fit and feeling good, you can certainly add more. But be sure to do at least this much to lock in your walking habit and start rebuilding your fitness.

Week 1

Where's your head? Excitement
No doubt youre happy to be walking again. Youre looking forward to getting into a routine and to reaping benefits such as feeling better and losing weight. With those first few walks, you feel great just to be moving again.

What's your focus? Setting goals
You need both short-term and long-term goals, says Wendell Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center.

When just starting out, the short-term goals may be the more important ones. So this week, dont fixate on a goal like losing 20 pounds that may still be months away.

Instead, think immediate gratification. If you walk just five of the next seven days youll start feeling and sleeping better by the weeks end. Also, commit to rewarding yourself if you meet your goals.

How much to walk?
Walk at least five days this week. As little as 10 to 15 minutes per walk is fine, but your minimum goal for the week should be a total of 60 minutes.

Week 2

Where's your head? Getting real
Youre still happy to be walking, but the initial excitement is gone, and the novelty is starting to wear off. Youre also realizing how easy it is to miss a walk now and then. You might even be feeling a bit sore or tired if you attacked your first week of walking with excessive zeal.

What's your focus? Enlisting support
Recruiting some help is critical to success, according to Andrea Dunn, Ph.D., who researches lifestyle-based activity programs at the Cooper Institute in Dallas.

Getting friends and family to at least encourage your walking is very important. It would be even better if you could enlist a few of them to regularly walk with you. Doing so can double your chances of sticking with your program.

How much to walk?
On at least five days this week, strive to walk a minimum of 15 minutes. The total minimum goal for the week is 75 minutes, but if youre feeling any fatigue or soreness, dont try to do more than that.

Also, make an effort to take at least two walks with another person your spouse, a co-worker, your children (as they ride their bikes) anyone who can help you get out the door. If it works and helps to motivate you, make a regular weekly date.

Week 3

Where's your head? Waning enthusiasm
Youre pondering whether you really have the time for this. You may even doubt its going to make a difference. This early in a program, before youre visibly shedding pounds or building great speed, its normal to worry about the payoffs.

What's your focus? Substitution
If youre struggling to carve exercise time into your schedule, try replacing inactive time in your day with something active.

Dunn suggests walking a message to a co-worker rather than sending e-mail; taking a quick walk instead of grabbing a midmorning snack; replacing 30 minutes of television viewing with a fitness video; riding a bike instead of taking a car to the store for milk.

Any of these substitutions can count toward your workout time for the week. Simple as it sounds, Dunn feels substitution can make a tenfold increase in your likelihood of success.

How much to walk?
Still shoot for five days this week, averaging 15 to 20 minutes on each, for a weekly goal of 90 minutes. Take at least 30 minutes of inactivity and substitute in some movement and include this in your weekly total.

Also try for four minutes of stretching a minute each on hamstrings, calves, thighs, and back after each walk.

Next: Five more weeks to a healthy habit!

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