Increasing the intensity will help you get more out of a shorter daily workout period.
If you're embarking on a fitness plan, your goal should be to tackle three areas: cardiovascular health, strength and flexibility. One of the best ways to kickstart your cardiovascular health is through simple walking. While any exercise is good exercise, to get the best out of your fitness efforts, here are a few things to consider before you head out the door for a walk.
Walking for 20 minutes, three times per week is a good start to a fitness program if you're new to exercise or coming back from an extended break.
Start Out Slow
If you're new to aerobic exercise, it takes time for your body to get into shape, which is why walking is such an ideal starting point. This low impact exercise allows you to begin to build both strength and endurance gradually, which is why three, 20-minute sessions per week work well if you're starting from a place of relative inactivity.
Most experts agree you should tap 50-70% of your maximum heart rate for moderate-intensity aerobic benefit, but this sweet spot varies from one person to the next. If you're not fit, it won't take much for your heart to reach this level, which is why a 20-minute walk, three times a week, may be just the right amount of exercise. During your walk, to test whether your heart rate is in the ideal aerobic zone, you should be able to have a quick conversation of six or seven words, and not struggle to catch your breath with every step.
To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.
Step It Up
Ultimately, any exercise is better than no exercise, but once you begin your fitness regimen, you'll quickly find that three, 20-minute walks aren't doing the trick anymore. As your heart begins to pump more efficiently, you'll need to throw intensity into your short workout.
For example, instead of a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood at four miles per hour, try picking up the pace to reach five miles per hour and throw some hills or stairs into your 20-minute time slot. Remember, as your cardiovascular system becomes more fit, you can shoot for a target of 70-85% of your maximum heart rate, which is considered a vigorous intensity of exercise.
Get Out More
If all you can find are 20-minute time slots for walking, that's perfectly fine, but see if you can squeeze a few more in. Once you can execute 20-minute walks three times a week with ease, it's time to add more slots. Studies have shown that several smaller walks do deliver the same effect as a single 2-hour outing, so start to increase your walks to five to seven times a week.
Ideally, you should shoot for 2.5 to 3 hours of weekly activity that raises your heart rate.
With today's smart phone technology, keeping track of your walking has never been easier. Most phones have apps that help you count your steps, as well as the number of floors you've climbed and your distance traveled, to give you a running tally of the ground your feet have covered on any given day. While the brass ring of fitness is to reach 10,000 steps a day, don't be discouraged if you fall short.
There's plenty of room to work your way up to this number, and with the new technology, you can easily set your own goals, such as adding 300 more steps to your 20-minute walk by traveling faster. Remember to pay attention to floors climbed as this number really gets your heart going.
While walking is a great way to get some exercise, even just three times a week for 20 minutes, what you make of your limited time can make all the difference.