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We all walk somewhere, even if just around the house. Since you’re reading this email, it’s probably safe to assume that you’re aiming to walk more. You need to change your routine.
We all know of the New Year’s resolutions that never survive the month of January: Research reveals that about 25 percent of people embarking on a new exercise program quit in the first week, and another 25 percent drop out within six months. To succeed in building better habits, experts recommend setting specific, realistic, and heartfelt goals.
Specific implies that you can count or measure a result. You want to walk more, but how much is more?
Realistic acknowledges that while you might wish upon a star to walk the Disney Princess Half Marathon, don’t expect to do it tomorrow if your usual distance is the mailbox.
And heartfelt acknowledges that the most powerful motivation comes from within. Your internist, your sister, your boss can get their own aerobic workout lecturing you on the benefits of regular exercise, but really the only voice that counts is your own better angel. People change because they want to, not because someone tells them they should.
Short vs. Long Term
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers good advice on goal setting. First, distinguish between short-term goals, what you plan to accomplish within the next week or month, and long-term goals, which look six months, a year, or years down the road. Write down your goals, put them where you can see them, and review them regularly.
That last thought is important. Although you want your goals firm enough to hold you accountable, you also want to allow room for adjustment, so that your new exercise routine can become a way of life, not a burdensome challenge that you can’t wait to drop. Be flexible. If you set a goal of beach walking after work three times a week but burn out in the sunset traffic jams, you may decide to walk in your neighborhood park and save the seashore for Saturday mornings. Goals should pass the Goldilocks test: not too loosey-goosey, not too onerous, but just right—for you.
Short-term goals may initially cover preparation. First, you may want to establish your baseline so that you can measure progress. For example, you might start like this:
- Today, I will time how long it takes me to walk from my house to the corner.
- Tomorrow, I will count the number of steps I take in an ordinary workday.
Other short-term goals may include setting up the conditions that you anticipate will make you successful.
- By the end of this week, I will find out whether my town has a walking Meetup group.
- By the end of the month, I will buy new polka‑dot socks.
Long-term goals also should be specific, realistic, and important to you. A few examples:
- In three months, I will double the number of my daily steps.
- By next summer, I will average 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, as the American Heart Association recommends.
- In six months, Rover and I will walk the Humane Society’s 5K.
- In a year, I’ll sign up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon.
Time and/or Distance
Many walkers set performance goals. Both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. More is better—more intensity and/or more time—but health professionals set the bar at 150 minutes, about as long as it takes to watch The Wizard of Oz. While the AHA recommends five 30-minute walks, the CDC greenlights even shorter chunks. If your schedule is so packed you have trouble carving out half hours, squeeze in brisk 10-minute walks to raise your heart rate.
And everyone agrees that something is better than nothing. To pull out Lao Tzu’s now overwalked, er, overworked, dictum, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
For more information about walking for fitness, buy Easy Exercises: Walking from University Health News.