Walking is one of the easiest, most prescribed cardiovascular exercises you can do. A healthy, active adult should strive for 10,000 steps per day (about 5 miles). A sedentary adult should aim for 1,000 to 3,000 steps per day and gradually increase steps until the 10,000 goal is achieved. Wearing a pedometer is the best way to track your steps. You can add more steps into daily activities by parking farther away, taking groceries in one bag at a time, plan a walking meeting or walk on your lunch hour, take the stairs, pace around while you talk on the phone, or involve your family in an after dinner walk.

If you’re new to walking here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Wear supportive shoes. Active exercisers should replace shoes every 3-6 months.
2. Maintain good posture (chin up, shoulders back, abs contracted, don’t lock your knees).
3. Lead with you heel touching the ground first.
4. Swing your arms at a 90-degree angle. Keep a loose grip with your hands. Tight fists can raise your blood pressure levels.
5. Begin your walk at a slower pace for the first 5 minutes. Stop and do a few lower body stretches before you pick up your pace. Commence to walk briskly as if late to an important appointment. You should be able to talk, but not sing while exercising. End your walk with a cool down period and more stretches.

If you’re an experienced walker try these ideas to spice up your routine:
1. Hold light weights (1-2 pounds) in your hands as you walk. Make sure you keep your arms pumping with elbows bent at 90 degrees. Keep a light grip on the weights to avoid an increase in blood pressure levels.
2. Wear a weighted vest. A weighted vest tricks your body into thinking you weigh more and allows you to burn more calories. It also increases strength, endurance, and helps improve bone density. Look for one that has adjustable weights that can be evenly distributed around your core. My favorite is the Debbie Rocker Walkvest Kit (www.walkvest.com).
3. Add in some intervals. Pick up your pace for 1-5 minutes, then return to your normal pace again for 1-5 minutes. Repeat this pattern throughout your workout. Or, add in some higher intensity moves (walk/run, squats, heal jacks, jumping jacks, lunges, etc.) following the same interval time pattern listed above.
4. Try H.I.I.T. Training (high intensity interval training). This is very challenging and an excellent fat burner! Walk or run as fast as you can (sprint or speed walk like someone is chasing you) for 1-minute. Then, return to a moderate walking pace for 1-minute. Continue this pattern for 5-10 minutes (beginners) 15-20 minutes (advanced).
5. Turn around! Backwards walking, also known as “retro-walking” works your muscles in an entirely different way than forward walking. The quads, calves and abs do more of the work. It improves balance, posture, mental focus and burns more calories. It’s less shock on the knees (for those of you with knee problems). The treadmill is the safest place to try it out. Be careful and start really slow. You’ll be surprised at how challenging it is! For those of you who want to venture outside, make sure you have a spotter. No falling in potholes!
6. Mix up your walking routes (try to include some hills) or change programs on the treadmill. If you continually do the same type of exercise you might be setting yourself up for a plateau. You need to continually “trick your body” to achieve the best results possible. Plus, changing things up helps prevent boredom.

Regular physical activity is an important component in achieving good health. Strive for 30-minutes of cardiovascular activity most days of the week. Walking is a great way to start your journey to wellness!

Health Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise:
1. Decreases risk of diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity).
2. Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
3. Increases metabolism, which promotes weight loss.
4. Minimizes stress, anxiety and depression.
5. Helps build stronger, muscles, bones and joints.
6. Reduces arthritis symptoms.
7. Improves overall health and well-being.

Author's Bio: 

Wendy Stoll is a certified personal trainer with over 18 years of experience specializing in exercise program design for women. She can be reached at (517) 327-1992, wstoll@comcast.net, www.wendystoll.com.