How to Start a Walking Program

We all know that exercise is beneficial for everyone.  It’s particularly important for people with, or at-risk for HD.  A New Year’s resolution made and kept will make you look and feel better.  Do you have to go to a gym 6 days a week and sweat bullets to get in shape?  NO!!!  Do you have to run marathons?  NO!!!  Do you have to spend a fortune on fancy equipment?  NO!!!

All you have to do is start walking gently.  Even if you have gait problems, you can start a program, and it may help with balance and gait over time.  The hardest thing about exercise is getting out the door.  Even if you don’t feel like it on a given day, you’ll feel better afterwards physically and psychologically. If you become a regular exerciser, you’ll be ahead of 95% of the people in the world.  Just knowing that will give you a feeling of satisfaction.

You do need a comfortable pair of shoes.  There is a dizzying array of shoes for walking, running, cross training and other sports.  If you don’t have a suitable pair of shoes, I would recommend going to a running or athletic shoe store and tell them you’re going to use them for walking. Try on several pair and choose the one that’s the most comfortable. Don’t worry about whether it is called a cushioned or motion control shoe or something else – just buy one that feels good.  If you decide to graduate to running, you can worry about that exotic stuff later.  You can choose a pair of low cost shoes from one of those big box stores, but make sure they’re comfortable.  What you gain in price will probably be lost in durability.

Okay. You’re ready to start walking for exercise. Your legs are probably going to be sore, since you haven’t been using them like this.  There are some simple, easy to do stretching exercises that will help.  Do two or three repetitions both before and after each walk.

Calf stretch.  Lean with both hands up against anything at about a 30 degree angle. Stretch your calves gently for 10 seconds.

Hamstring stretch. (the muscle behind your thigh)  Lift one leg up and place it on a chair or other object at about a 45 degree angle.  Lean towards your foot and stretch your hamstring gently for 10 seconds.  Repeat with your other leg.

Quadriceps (Quad) stretch (your big thigh muscle).  Support yourself with your right hand on a table or other object.  Reach down with your left hand, grab your right leg by the ankle and pull it gently upwards and behind your left leg. Hold for 10 seconds.  Do the same thing with your right hand with your left leg.

Gluteus Maximus (Glute) stretch (your butt muscle).  The calf, hamstring and quad stretches are the most important, but your glutes are also used.  Lay flat on your back, grab both knees, pull them to your chest and rock back and forth on your butt 10 times. On your final rock, pull your legs apart and hold gently for 10 seconds. That will also stretch your groin muscles that run down the inside of your thighs.

How far and fast should you start walking?  That depends on you.  If you’re not in the best of shape, just walk a couple hundred yards the first day. Your initial goal should be to walk fast enough to get your heart rate and breathing elevated for 20 minutes.  When that feels comfortable, increase speed and distance gradually.  Most people don’t see improvement steadily, but in sudden leaps forward.  Resolve to walk 6 days a week and you will be amazed at the results.

I’ve seen people exercise walking who pump their arms and flail around like Donald or Daisy Duck in a snit.  That’s not necessary.  Just let your arms swing naturally.  Don’t worry about any strange looks from neighbors or co-workers.  You’re ahead of them because you’re moving and they’re not.  Don’t worry about the weather. Dress for it as best you can.  If it’s terribly cold or hot, cut your walk a little short, but don’t seize on that as an excuse to skip a day. Do take a day off once a week to reward yourself.

If you work or live in a multi-story building, you have access to one of the best pieces of exercise equipment in the world.  And it’s FREE!  The stairs.  Climbing them will get your heart rate and breathing up very quickly.  Be very careful about starting to climb stairs.  Start slowly since different muscles are used from walking. 

If you find yourself getting ready to transition to running, there are a number of excellent programs for doing that.  Here’s one: