What you need to know before you start walking for your health

Please note, this article is for informational purposes only – see my disclaimer here. It is aimed at people who would like to start walking for exercise, especially those who have other health problems that may hold them back from starting to walk for their health.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure

The benefits of walking

Walking has many health benefits including increased cardiovascular fitness, improved weight control and increasing your life span. This guide tells you all you need to know to start you off. Walking has been shown to lead to sustained weight loss, especially if you walk regularly. It is the only exercise I do, and I lost over 17kg last year and have kept it off. If you incorporate walking in to your healthy lifestyle, along with other choices of a well balanced diet, stopping smoking, minimal alcohol and plenty of sleep, you will derive multiple benefits including reduced stress, weight control and improved tolerance to illness. Just 30 minutes brisk walking per day has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes and extend your lifespan.

Why you need to see a doctor before you start a walking program

Any walking plan should begin with a trip to your GP. If you have other health issues such as heart disease, arthritis in your joints or chronic back pain, you will need to have an individualised program under the supervision of a physiotherapist or other trained specialist in this field. This is especially relevant if you haven’t exercised for a long time or have a significant amount of weight to lose. Starting off slowly and building up your tolerance will mean that you have less issues such as strained muscles.

I don’t want to put you off altogether, however, there are some precautions to be aware of. If you experience any symptoms such as palpitations, severe shortness of breath or chest pain, seek medical attention straight away. Any muscle aches and pains can be treated by a cold pack and resting and elevating the affected leg, however anything more serious should be examined by a medical professional. Apart from these precautions, there is relatively very little that prevents you from starting to walk for your health. Walking is the best exercise for anyone with other health issues because it is less stress on your body.

Why I started walking for health

10 years ago I was relatively fit. I went to the gym at least three times a week and swam 1 km on the other days. I trained for triathlons and competed in two. I went through a period of losing my stamina, and I just thought I needed to train harder. The harder I trained the worse my exercise tolerance became, until one summer evening when I collapsed in a heap at boot camp, my heart racing and palpitating, and gasping for breath. I had developed a cough as well which I thought was just a cold or flu. After a trip to my GP, he referred me to have a cardiac echo done which I thought was a bit over the top. It couldn’t possibly be anything cardiac.

The cardiac echo showed I have an atrial septal defect, which I’ve had since birth (another genetic condition thanks to my dad’s mother who had the same thing). To be diagnosed at 43 was a huge shock to me, but it explained why my symptoms had got worse with increased exercise. I have two holes in my heart, plus an aneurysm in the wall between the top chambers (atrium). This allows unfiltered blood to circulate into my blood system, and the symptoms include palpitations, migraines and shortness of breath. I manage it by minimising the work my heart does – no high intensity exercise, and medications to stop the palpitations and lower my blood pressure.

Walking is the only exercise I do now. I swim in the summer but not as much as I used to, and I do some yoga although I’m out of practice with it now. Contrary to what one might believe, I don’t miss the heavy schedule of training that I used to do. I was often nursing injuries and my life revolved around training which left little time for anything else. My running used to be on a treadmill and I rarely walked in the fresh air. I had a lot of migraines, not surprising really. Now I walk my dog every day and it is the best part of the day. I enjoy the fresh air and feel completely stress free when I’m walking. I’m telling you this story as a word of caution as to why any symptoms should be checked out by your doctor. It may be something completely out of the blue like mine. You always need to be checked by your doctor prior to undertaking any exercise program.

The essentials for walking for health

What you need for walking - 1. Drink bottle 2. shoes 3. hat 4. fitness tracker 5. sunscreen 6. comfortable clothes
1. Drink bottle 2. shoes 3. hat 4. fitness tracker 5. sunscreen 6. comfortable clothes

What you need for walking:

You can walk almost anywhere, in any weather (with adequate clothing for extreme temperatures and rain or sun), and it costs very little to get started. This is what you will need:

Shoes – Good shoes are a must as they take all the impact and need to support your feet so that you don’t get strains in your leg muscles. My favourites are Asics (link to buy online here) and Sketchers Go Walk (buy online here). In the summer a good pair of sandals such as Planet Shoes (with arch support) may be more comfortable. I know a lot of people wear Birkenstocks but I’ve never tried them so I can’t rate how they are.

Hat – I always wear a cap but a wide brimmed hat is better for sun protection. Sunglasses to protect your eyes.

Sunscreen – SPF 50+ is the best. Neutrogena make a great spray-on one called Beach Defence (buy online here). I bought a fantastic one in Japan by Biore – if you can buy it I recommend it as it is light, and goes on like moisturiser without leaving a greasy film on your skin (buy online here). In Australia, Cancer Council make the best range of sunscreens and skin protection (buy online here) .

Clothing – walking doesn’t require any special clothing, but comfortable loose fitting clothes will be better. I wear shorts or long pants with pockets so that I can carry keys, phone, dog poo bags and hand sanitiser, leaving my hands free for the dog leash and a water bottle. You may prefer leggings which are definitely more comfortable. T-shirt and light sweatshirt are usually enough, and a lightweight jacket on rainy days.

Optional – a dog, preferably a border collie! Even when you don’t feel like walking, they always do, and their pleading eyes will motivate you even on your laziest days. Being out in the fresh air is the best remedy for a glum mood, and my dog is a social butterfly so I get to meet all the other dog walkers even when I’m feeling antisocial so it helps take my mind off things. Seeing how happy he is lightens my mood so much and it definitely is the highlight of my day.

Fitbit or other fitness tracker – to record your steps for the day, pulse rate, weight, calorie intake and sleep. I am in challenges with other people on Fitbit which keeps me motivated. (Buy online here)

Banjo and I at the local off-leash park.

In the above photo I’m wearing my Asics shoes (link to buy online here), Uniclo pants (Ultra Stretch Leggings), Uniclo long sleeved shirt (Ribbed Cotton Crew Neck) and Katies jacket.

Other ways to increase your step count

The optimum number of steps per day is 10000. If you don’t have the time to take a 30 minute to one hour walk every day, you can increase your step count by doing the following:

  • Park further away
  • If you sit at a desk all day, set a reminder on your phone to get up and move every hour. My fitbit buzzes to remind me to take 250 steps every hour during the day
  • Walk in your lunch break
  • If you meet a friend regularly for coffee, get the coffee to takeaway and have a walk while you drink it
  • Set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier and go for a quick walk in the morning
  • If the weather is bad, go to your local shopping centre and walk around there
  • Take the stairs at work. Walking up stairs burns calories 2-3 times faster than walking on level ground
  • Invest in a treadmill or join a gym so that you can use theirs

By gradually increasing the amount I walk, and by taking the stairs at work, I have increased my stamina so much that when I was in Japan a couple of years ago we used walking as our primary means of transport (apart from the train), and we managed to climb a mountain! I was so happy that my fitness had allowed me to see something that was only accessible by walking and climbing. Some days we walked up to 14km while we were there.

I hope I have inspired you to start your own walking program. You may like to read these other articles:

Slow and steady wins the race – how I lost weight by walking

How to make goals that stick – how to set realistic goals that you will achieve and stick with

Living the healthiest version of your life – even if you have health issues, you can still live the healthiest version of yourself

If you enjoyed this article, please share and comment.

Shared at the following link-up party: Life this week #195 19/6/20 Prompt: Best time of the day

Also shared at the Midlife Share the Love Link-up Party


23 responses to “What you need to know before you start walking for your health”

  1. I completely agree about the dog – mine is great company on walks and a great reason to get out of bed and get moving! Also another vote for Planet shoes, I got two pairs of Planet boots this winter and they are so comfy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sammie, I wear Planet Shoes for work shoes too. They make a great range and last for ages. Dogs are great motivators aren’t they! Thanks for your comment regards Christina


    • Hi Vanessa, good on you. It’s good to have physios oversee your exercise – my son hurt his back and had to completely start his running from the start under a physio. It worked – he’s back running again. Thanks for your comment, good luck with your recovery, regards Christina


  2. Hi Christina, I agree with everything you suggest and I’ve always enjoyed walking, but at the moment I have a sore knee and going to regular physio appointments. I am slowly improving and building up my walking regime again. I have found bike riding the best form of exercise as it doesn’t impact my knee at all. How scary your illness must have been but I’m so glad you discovered what it was before it got any worse! #lifethisweek

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Debbie, I’m sure with time and the help of the physio you’ll be back walking again. Best of luck with it. Riding is just as good anyway and very enjoyable. It was scary, especially because I was a single mother then and had complications after one of the angio’s – nearly died. I’ve never taken my health for granted since then. Thanks for your comment, take care,

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have now found a conversion of cycling minutes into steps so feel good about joining in with Fly into July a step based challenge raising funds for Life’s Little Treasures, a charity very close to my heart due to my premature granddaughter. Sharing for #mlstl

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I walk everyday. The alarm goes off at 5.30 and rain, hail or shine we do about 5kms along the beach. I do another shorter walk with my dog at lunchtime and at least a few afternoons a week will do another 5kms when I knock off from the day job. It sets me up for the day in the morning and it brings me out of day job headspace in the afternoon. Mostly though it helps me breathe. I’m doing a 1000mile walk challenge at present, so every step counts. #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jo, wow! That’s amazing, truly inspirational. When I am at work I walk up to 14km (usually about 8km) so I don’t do as much walking outside of that. I really should up the ante though seeing as I’m still not back at work yet. Thanks for your comment, and good luck with the challenge, regards Christina

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, great advice here! I am an avid walker, I generally don’t miss a day, unless ill or travelling, but even then I try to get my steps in 🙂 I’m new to your blog so will enjoy having a look around 🙂 #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sam, I find I can exercise even more on holiday, and even lose weight! We do so much sightseeing and use public transport so it’s easy to get those step counts up. Welcome to my blog, regards Christina

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Walking is the best..it’s free and we have to do it to move.

    I am not walking as much as I used to but generally get in between 5,500 and 6,500 steps per day according to my Apple watch.

    I wear Brooks sneakers that work for my poor feet !

    Thank you so much for linking up. We are more half way through the year now. Next week it’s time for: 27/51 Taking Stock #3 6.7.2020 so I look forward to seeing you then, on or off prompt. Denyse.


    • Hi Denyse, yes, walking’s great for the reasons you mentioned. I’ve never tried Brooks but I probably should because my feet are showing the strain these days. Thanks for welcoming me to your Linkup! Regards Christina


  6. Hi Christina, I walk every day – in all types of weather. One of the joys of retirement is that I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to fit a walk in before work, and if the weather is horrible I can pick and choose what time of the day to go walking.
    I’ve tried lots of different types of exercise over the years, but walking is the only one that I find pleasant, easy to find time for, and I don’t have to travel to get there or have special gear (other than a good, cushioned pair of sneakers). I also love my Fitbit – not for all the bells and whistles, but definitely for the step count accountability – I aim for 10,000 on average per day – some days a little less, some a little more – so I’m happy with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I walk every day and it’s a great way to start my engine going. Especially love the section about other ways to increase your step count. Visiting you at #MLSTL and pinned this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Christina I either walk or go for a run as part of my fitness routine. Walking though is mainly to clear my mind as I’m fortunate to live by the ocean and can enjoy the view. I think you’ve covered everything in your post and the great thing about walking is that anyone can do it and it is free! Thanks for linking up and sharing at #MLSTL.x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Sue, you’re so lucky living near the beach. We live only 15 mins away but don’t go very much. We do have lovely parks and channels near us though. Thanks for your comment, Christina


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