When starting an exercise program after a long period of inactivity, begin with a walking program. Walk for 30 to 45 minutes a day, three to four times a week (not on consecutive days), at a comfortable pace. You should be able to talk in complete sentences throughout the entire walk. After about three weeks, you'll find your endurance and fitness has improved—you are able to walk farther and faster, and you feel better about yourself. You may even find yourself singing instead of talking.
It takes two to three weeks to adapt to and experience the benefits of exercise. Once fitness improves, we are ready to increase the intensity a little. After this 2- to 3-week period, increase your time walking by no more than 10 percent per week. Therefore, in our example, walking intervals increase to 35 to 50 minutes. Keep the same schedule as before—same days and times—to maintain your new habit.
More: 30-Minute Walking Routine for Weight Loss
Once you have reached a level of comfortable walking for an hour a day and maintained that level of fitness for several weeks, it is time to move up to a run/walk program—running intervals interspersed with walking intervals.
Run/walk works very well for new runners, creating a bridge in the transition from walking to continuous running, using our two basic principles: avoiding too much, too soon and endurance before speed.
Benefits of run/walk include reduced stress on your joints (ankles, knees and hips), lowering your heart rate, and giving you a chance to catch your breath—all while improving fitness and building endurance.
Many of my runners find they enjoy run/walk so much, they stay with this program while lengthening the running intervals and shortening the walking intervals to a level that feels comfortable.
Start with short running intervals of 1 or 2 minutes, and walking intervals of at least the same length. If you find yourself unable to run for a minute, try to run for 30 seconds and walk for 2 minutes until you build endurance. You should be able to speak in complete sentences throughout the run/walk.
Follow a similar progression from run/walk to running. Start with short intervals of 20 to 30 minutes and gradually increase the distance or time spent running (not more than 10 percent a week) until you reach that comfort zone of time and distance.
More: How to Execute a Run/Walk Program Properly
After a few months, you'll be surprised at how your fitness and endurance has improved. Reward yourself. Search for a local race, a 5K (3.1 miles) or 8K (4.96 miles) where you'll see friends and neighbors. Register for the race.
More: Check Out the Couch to 5K Training Page
As the race approaches, review your training log and reassure yourself of all the progress you've made. Take pride in your accomplishments as you pin your bib to the front of your shirt and when you toe the line. Savor every moment on the course and finish with a smile on your face.
The best is yet to come. You've embarked upon a new path in life, an active life, which will continue as long as you can follow your dream.
More: 5 Reasons Running Makes You Happier
Sign up for your next 5K.