3 walking programs for different ability levels

Close-up on shoe of person's feet walking

If you want to exercise more, you don’t have to join a gym, sign up for a class or buy any special equipment. You can improve your health by starting a walking program.

“Walking is a simple and effective exercise that can benefit people of all ability levels,” says Tyler Waclawski, a BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee certified exercise physiologist. “You just have to get started.”

Health benefits of walking

Tyler: When you walk, you’re doing a lot more than just moving your feet. You’re investing in your health and well-being.

Some of the myriad of health benefits of walking include helping to:

  • Lower your risk for both blood pressure problems and your heart disease risk
  • Reduce your urge to eat sugary snacks
  • Reduces the risk of developing breast cancer
  • Reduces arthritis-related joint pain
  • Boost your immune system function
  • Helps you lose weight—and maintain weight loss.

You can use walking as a workout, a break from a stressful project at work, or some family bonding time. You can use it as a way to clear your head or start thinking. You can use it as a cool-down technique after another type of exercise. You can chat with a friend while you walk, listen to a podcast, or just enjoy the sounds of nature. It’s important to make it work for you.

Try a walking program that works for you

Tyler: One of the best things about walking is that there is very little barrier to entry. All you need to walk is a pair of well-fitted walking shoes, a safe place to walk, and a positive attitude. A good pair of socks might help, too.

Then you just have to choose a place to start. If you’ve been pretty sedentary up until now, you might want to start with a beginning walker’s plan.

Check out these programs of different intensity levels to see where you might want to start.

Walking plan for beginners

This is the best place for beginners to start, or people who haven’t been exercising regularly for the previous three months.

  • Pick a time where you’ll have at least 15 minutes available.
  • Walk 10-15 minutes continuously.
  • Stay at a moderate pace as much as possible. At this pace, it should still be relatively easy to carry on a conversation with a walking partner.
  • As you become stronger, pick up the pace or gradually increase the amount of time you spend walking.

Walking plan for intermediate walkers

Here’s a good place to start if you’ve been lightly exercising periodically.

  • Start at a moderate pace.
  • Aim to walk at least three days per week
  • Try to walk for 30-45 minutes.
  • Increase your pace from moderate to vigorous when you feel ready. When that feels easy, you can begin to transition to the advanced routine.

Walking plan for the advanced walker

If you’ve been participating in a regular exercise routine for a while, this is the walking plan for you.

  • Start at a moderate-to-vigorous pace.
  • Boost your pace when you feel warmed up.
  • Walk for 30-45 minutes.
  • Try to include some hilly terrain, which could include a hill in your neighborhood, a hiking trail, or a treadmill with the incline increased.

How to keep walking

As you begin your walking program, you may want to think about your motivation. What will keep you on track and keep you putting one foot in front of the other? The answer will vary from person to person. Some people also find that keeping track of their steps or their mileage or the time they spend walking helps them stay motivated, too.

“If you experience any pain or discomfort during your walking routine, try dialing it back to a lighter intensity,” says Tyler. “If the pain persists, try alternative activities such as riding a bike or using an elliptical trainer to eliminate the impact of your foot (and leg) hitting the ground, which may reduce the pain. It’s also always good to talk to your doctor about any new exercise routine and any problems or pain you experience with your new routine.”

More from Tyler Waclawski on WellTuned.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.