If you think physical activity requires complicated equipment, athletic skills or a gym membership, think again.
Starting an exercise routine is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. Walking is an easy, free activity that you can do almost anywhere.
Why walk? Because even moderate exercise can reduce your risk for major illnesses, including heart disease, stroke and some cancers, says Carol Harrison, a senior exercise physiologist at MD Anderson.
“Research shows that devoting even a tiny fraction of your day to walking can have a big health impact,” Harrison says. “And being physically active in general may reduce your risk for colon, endometrial and breast cancers.”
Walking also can improve your mental outlook, help alleviate depression and improve your self-esteem.
Take the first steps
An exercise routine doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective. But it does have to push you at least slightly above your current fitness level.
“It doesn’t have to be hard. It does have to be challenging,” Harrison says.
To enjoy the benefits of walking, you should aim for at least 150 minutes each week. Harrison offers the following tips to get you started:
- Get a good pair of walking shoes. They don’t have to be expensive.
- Drink water before and during exercise.
- Start where you are. Don’t focus on past attempts or false starts.
- Don’t compare yourself to somebody else.
- Have a purpose. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish.
- Set specific, achievable goals and write them down.
- Find an exercise partner. You can encourage each other.
- Make exercise an appointment you keep with yourself.
Finally, she advises following a plan. Our experts have developed a walking schedule designed to help beginners build their strength and stamina, as well as improve their fitness over time.
If your time is limited, split the daily time into two sessions. For example, on a day when you’re scheduled to walk 30 minutes, try 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon.
If you don’t feel ready to move forward with the schedule, repeat the previous week. The goal is to stick to the plan, and maintain or increase your level of activity.
If you have pain or discomfort when walking, try using the schedule with an elliptical machine or a stationary bike.
The important thing is to get started and stick with it, Harrison says. “I never heard anyone say they were sorry they exercised. Only they were sorry they didn’t.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.