Walking is one of the most accessible forms of exercise for all of us to do.
You don’t need a gym membership, you don’t need any equipment, and you can do it anytime, anywhere!
Sounds perfect, right?
It is understandable though, that if you suffer from joint pain or rheumatic disease that you might find it a bit difficult to get a regular walking routine going. Often our clients tell us stories of how they once tried to walk more, but it worsened their pain. Others have reported keeping it up for a while with little result.
I understand that it can be incredibly difficult to overcome all of the barriers required to keep up any type of regular exercise. But with some warmer days and longer afternoons creeping in, I thought it a great time to share some tips in order to help you build up a walking routine that is safe and feels good. Our program will build you up gradually over the next 6 weeks, and is targeted for those who need a slow and steady approach!
Tips to start
It’s important to get the right shoes for you! The right footwear can make a huge difference to the loading through the joints, and therefore it is important to find the right fit. Our feet and bodies are all different, so there will likely be differences in our shoe needs. However, finding a shoe that fits well, supports your body and it’s needs, and is comfortable is essential if you plan to walk more.
Plan ahead! At the beginning of the week, try and plan when you are going to go for your walks, and treat it like an important appointment. Make sure that you give yourself enough time to do your walk, and also plan your walks around your daily activities so that it doesn’t stop you from getting your other tasks done because of lack of time or energy.
Work out your route- keep in mind hills, different surfaces (dirt, grass, road, concrete, gravel). Initially, try and stick with flat ground, and to one type of surface- perhaps start with softer surfaces.
So now to get started!
The goal for Week 1, is to get 3 walks in. Some people find it nicer on the joints to start walking on grass, although this does use slightly different muscle patterns to when you walk on a harder surface. Start with 5-10 minutes of walking, and try to keep the route flat. A bit of a guide on how hard you should be working, is using the “Talk Test”. For a low intensity exercise, you should be able to hold a conversation pretty easily whilst you walk. Although we do want to build up how much you push yourself over time, a light intensity to begin with is a good idea (if you are using a heart rate monitor, aim for 55-65% heart rate max)
Well done on completing Week 1! Now Week 2 is where we will aim to slightly increase the time you are walking for. Ideally still at the same intensity (able to hold a conversation easily). Aim for 10-15 minutes for each walk, still doing this 3 times in the week. If you are feeling that your body is handling this well, add some slight hills to one of your walks. If you had started walking on grass, see if you can do 5mins of each walk on a harder surface (like a pathway) for your walks this week. It’s important though that you add ONE change to the mix..not all of the above! Here is a link to Sarah’s blog on pacing to help you understand why we manage changes carefully.
Now that your body is able to cope well with some walking, let’s try and build up your walking fitness. In these 2 weeks, keep the time you walk the same, but see if you can increase your pace so that (using the talk test), you can have a conversation with someone, but you need to stop and take a breath at the end of each sentence or 2. If you are using a heart rate monitor, this roughly corresponds to 65-75% heart rate max, but don’t think you have to aim for the higher end of that- work at whatever level works for you!
If you have only just begun to experiment with walking on hard surfaces, you may need to take an extra few weeks doing shorter walks, as your body and joints need to adapt to the change. If that isn’t working for you, stick with grass!
These last 2 weeks, we aim to add an extra day of walking, and try and make at least one walk 20 minutes in duration. The other walks should remain around the 15minute mark, but make sure you are listening to your body and what it needs. Aim for the “talk test” intensity to be the same as weeks 3-4, however for your 20 minute walk, you may like to reduce the intensity to help you to keep going for that little bit longer.
If you have made it this far…WELL DONE!!
Once you have gotten through these first 6 weeks, you should be able to keep at 3-4 days a week of up to 20 minutes’ walk. If you are wanting to make your walks more challenging, try increasing the intensity, adding some hills, or even just making the walks slightly longer. Aim to always stay within a range that you are comfortable and not out of breath, and ensure that your joints and muscles are able to cope (consider the next few days after your walks also!).
The key is to build up gradually, remembering to focus on on one variable at a time. And only increasing the speed/distance/intensity gradually!
Hopefully this has given you some tips and a plan on how to get you on the right path to build up your walking regularly!