The Healthy Heart Walking Workout
How Fast Do You Go?
Use your car to clock an exact mile on a straight, flat road. Then use a stopwatch to see how long it takes you to walk briskly from start to finish (or head to your local high school's track and time a one-mile walk there). "Most moderate exercisers should be able to walk at a 2.5- to 3.5-mile-per-hour pace, which means a mile would take between 17 and 24 minutes," says Barry A. Franklin, PhD, director of the cardiac rehabilitation and exercise laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital, in Royal Oak, Michigan. You finish the mile in less than 17 minutes, you're probably ready for a bigger challenge and your heart will benefit more from the vigorous three-times-a week workout.
The Moderate Workout
How long: 30 minutes
How often: 5 days a week
Get started: Walk at a leisurely pace for a minute, then pick up speed to increase blood flow to your muscles. During this walk, your target heart rate should reach the moderate range for your age (see "Are You Working Hard Enough?" page 3). If you're pressed for time, you can accumulate 30 minutes in 10- to 20-minute increments throughout the day. "But you need to do a minimum of 10 minutes to reap cardiovascular benefits," says Dr. Franklin. Take it to the next level after several weeks or months, you'll start to find it takes less effort to walk moderately. To sustain the training effect, you should do one day of faster walking or move on to the vigorous program.
The Vigorous Workout
How long: 20 minutes, plus warm-up and cool-down
How often: 3 days a week
Get started: Kick off this more intense walk by gradually warming up for several minutes as you work toward your vigorous heart-rate range. Twenty minutes of fast walking, end with a short cool-down. "Cool-down walking allows your heart rate and blood pressure to normalize," says Dr. Franklin, who recommends adding a few minutes of stretching after each walk as well. Take it to the next level as vigorous walks become less challenging, add five minutes to each walk or schedule a fourth weekly workout. Another way to push yourself is to walk uphill or exercise at the even more intense "athlete" heart rate (see "Are You Working Hard Enough?" page 3) once or twice a week.