Getting Started With a Walking/Jogging Program
This chapter will cover the basics of beginning a walking or jogging program in order to give you the best chance of being successful.
Beginning a walking or jogging program can be a daunting task. To illustrate the concept of lifestyle, take a moment and consider your local gym. You may notice the attendance there in the month of January increases dramatically. Some estimates suggest as many as 80% have stopped coming by the second week of February. However, as February and March approach, attendance steadily declines eventually falling back to pre-January levels. Why does this occur? Why aren’t these new customers able to continue the routine for the entire year? One possible explanation: patrons are unsuccessful at viewing their routine as a lifestyle. The new year brings resolutions, goals and aspirations intended to reach an endpoint in a short period of time. The idea of returning to teen level weight and/or fitness, while alluring and well-intended, are simply unrealistic for most adults. The physical demands and time constraints associated with the adult life stage must be taken in to consideration in order to be successful. If not, goals remain dreams (at least until the next year).
Both walking and jogging are simple activities that promote health and fitness, as previously discussed. Like any other lifestyle habit, optimal health and fitness do not occur over night. Time and more importantly, consistency, drive health and fitness outcomes. So, as you begin your program focus on what will make you consistent. The term lifestyle implies “habits, attitudes,…standards…that together constitute the mode of living” 1(dictionary) or behavior that is imbedded into your daily and weekly routine. You’re not simply trying to change physically, but rather modify your mental perception to promote long term health.
The steps below should guide you through this process. Before getting to the point of beginning your program, you should understand the safety concerns associated with exercise.
The physical challenges of beginning a new exercise program can place you at a greater risk of injury, illness or even death. Results from various studies suggest vigorous activity increases the risk of acute cardiac heart attacks and/or sudden cardiac death (ACSM pg. 10).2 While that may seem contradictory to the previously suggested benefits of walking and jogging, the long term benefits of exercise unequivocally outweigh the risks during exercise. In active young adults (younger than 35), incidence of cardiac events are still rare, affecting 1 in 133,000 in men and 1 in 769,000 in women. In older individuals, 1 in 18,000 cardiac events occur. 2
Of those rare cardiac incidents that do occur, the presence of preexisting heart disease is the common thread, specifically atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis causes arteries to harden and become clogged with plaque which can break apart, move to other parts of the body, and clog smaller blood vessels. In light of this, it is important to screen individuals for risk factors associated with heart disease before they begin an exercise program.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a thorough pre-screening to identify any risk of heart disease. The 7 major risk factors looking to be identified are below. 3
In addition to identifying your risk factors, you should also complete a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q). The PAR-Q asks yes or no questions about symptoms associated with heart disease. Based on your risk factors, and your responses in the PAR-Q, you are then placed into a risk category: low, moderate, high.
Once you have determined your ability to safely perform the demands of walking and jogging, you are now ready to move to the next steps in the process of beginning your program. Other safety concerns, such as where you walk and jog, how to be safe during your workout, and environmental conditions will be addressed at a later time.
As you look at the remaining steps, a simple analogy may help to better conceptualize the process.
Imagine you are looking at a map because you are traveling to a particular location and you’d like to determine the best route for your journey. To get there, you must first determine your current location and then find the roads that will take you to your desired location. You must also consider roads that will present the least amount of resistance, provide a reasonably direct route, and don’t present any safety hazards along the way. Of course, planning the trip, while extremely important, isn’t the final step. You must now actually drive the route, monitor your car for fuel and/or malfunction, etc, and be prepared to reroute should obstacles arise.
Preparing yourself for a walking and jogging program and ultimately, trying to adapt a lifestyle approach to exercise, requires similar preparation. You will need to:
Assess Your Condition
In order to adequately prepare for starting your personal walking and jogging program, you will need to take a hard look at your current level of fitness. With multiple methods of assessing your fitness, you should select the one that best applies to you. Understand, however, that each walking/jogging assessment discussed here is attempting to estimate a key physiological marker, your maximal oxygen consumption. Your maximal oxygen consumption, or VO2max, measures your body’s ability to take in and utilize oxygen which directly correlates to your overall health and fitness. Obtaining a good estimate of your VO2max will provide you a one-time glance at your baseline fitness and health, provide a baseline measurement and help you gauge the efficacy of your fitness program in subsequent reassessments.
Some of the most common walking/jogging assessments used to estimate your VO2max include the 12 minute Walk, 1.5 mile Run-Walk Test, and 1 mile walk test. Unfortunately, these field assessments, although practical and inexpensive, only provide good estimations. For a more accurate assessment, you would need to perform a lab-based VO2max test using equipment that measures the volume of oxygen and carbon dioxide being moved in and out of the lungs during exercise. While more accurate, the expense and availability make it impractical for most. Unlike the lab test, the field assessments are basically cost free, user friendly and require very little expertise to conduct or perform. In addition, the key point of the assessment is measuring differences rather than absolute values and the field tests can accurately meet that objective.
You will find information, such as how to safely perform the assessments, at the end of chapter 2. To complete this step, select one or two of those assessments, read and follow the instructions, and record your results.
In addition to walking and jogging assessments, other measurements can be helpful in measuring the success of your activities. Given the top reasons both males and females exercise, weight management and musculature, measuring body fat and weight along with anthropometric measurements will help determine if these areas are being affected by your walking and jogging routine.
Using an analogy of a map, you must determine your current location in order to determine the best route to get to your destination. In the previous step, you essentially figured out “your current location” and now must determine “your destination” by setting up some goals.
In his bestselling book, 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, the author Stephen Covey suggests you should “begin with the end in mind.” 4 While this may not seem directly applicable to walking and jogging, the greater concept of lifestyle certainly comes in to play here. Setting goals, in any activity, is important because it will lead to a greater chance of success. With goals, you get to determine what success is, you get to determine the end point. Without goals, you have no way to measure whether or not you’ve succeeded or not. In other words, you could easily exceed your goals and actually think you failed.
The art of setting goals includes stating them in a clearly defined and measurable way. You should consider exactly what you would like to accomplish, make sure you can measure it, and establish a time frame in which you will have achieved your goal. These are often termed SMART goals
A well stated goal will contain all of the SMART ingredients. Take a look at the well stated example below:
Note, all the ingredients of a well stated goal are present. It is specific (improve 12-minute distance by 10%), measurable (10% improvement), attainable and realistic (the degree of improvement is reasonable in that time frame), and time frame (a clear deadline of 2 months).
Less effective goals would be stated like this:
And a common one:
At a closer glance, none of these examples contain all of the ingredients of a well stated goal. How will you measure “faster?” “Further” is not specific enough nor is “lose weight.” In the last example, this is not a goal at all. It is a plan to achieve a goal that hasn’t been stated.
In the end, setting up well stated goals will give you the best chance to convert good intentions in to a successful lifestyle.
To complete this step, you should write down 2-3 personal goals, stated in the SMART format, and put them in a place you will see them frequently.
Create a Plan
Now that you know exactly what it is you want to achieve, begin generating a strategy that will help you reach your goals. As you strategize, your goal in this step is to determine the frequency, the intensity, and duration of your exercise sessions. While doing this, it is imperative to keep in mind a few key principles.
One obvious, but still key principle, is to use your goals as the foundation for your walking and jogging program. If your goal is related to weight loss, this should drive the frequency, duration, and intensity of your daily workouts as these variables will influence your body’s use of fat for fuel and the number of calories burned. If you feel more interested in improving your speed, you will need to dedicate more workout time to achieving those results. This idea is associated with the training principle, called specificity, which will be discussed more extensively in a later chapter.
Another key principle to be emphasized is to rely on expert recommendations to safely and effectively design your program. Organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine, Coopers Clinic, the Surgeon General and many more have extensively researched the optimal frequency, intensity and duration for aerobic exercise. As a result, recommendations have been widely distributed to help guide participation in activities such as walking and jogging. Trained professionals such as personal trainers, coaches, and physicians have taken the recommendations and applied them to client’s needs while modifying when necessary. Thousands of books and articles have been published to disseminate their ideas and how they can be applied to the general public.
Because of the volume of information, much of the details of this step, creating a plan, have been entered in chapter 3 and 4. There, we will discuss choosing proper equipment, the adaptation to stress training principles, and the actual physiological adaptations that come from aerobic exercise such as walking and jogging. After reading and understanding the material there, you will want to get your plan in writing. At the end of chapter 3, you will find a form that will help you to complete this step.
Once you’ve assessed your fitness and created your own plan, you’re over half way there to checking your goals off the to do list. Now is when the rubber hits the road, as the old adage goes. With the investment of a well thought out and designed program comes the returns from good execution. The planning is really the hard part. Now that you know what to do and how to do it, it’s a simple matter of doing it.
Unfortunately, the ability to stick with a program has proven difficult for most (cite statistics of starting an exercise program).
In order to prevent getting derailed from your program you should identify barriers that may prevent you from consistently following through. One of the most common challenges cited is time. Work schedules, school, child care, and the activities of daily living can leave you with little time to pursue your walking and jogging goals. Make a list of the items that prevent you from regular exercise and then analyze when you could squeeze in your exercise time. This could be walking or jogging during your child’s athletic practice, or extending the daily walking of the dog another 15-20 minutes.
Regardless of how you fit your exercise in, consider how you can do so consistently. Below are a few additional tips on successfully becoming consistent in your routine.
As activity rates among Americans improve, safety concerns become extremely important. Unfortunately, the physical infrastructure of many American cities is simply not built to accommodate walkers and joggers without going to a local park or trail. Limited financial resources and de-emphasis on health priorities for local and state governments make it tough to build roads with sidewalks, walking trails surrounding parks, bike lanes, etc. In addition, time constraints and inconvenience make it challenging for participants to want to travel to areas where these things are available. As a result, walkers and joggers use roads and isolated trails/pathways inherently increasing the risk of being active.
Whether on the road or off the beaten path, there are a few critical concepts to safe walking and jogging. The first key concept is visibility. You want to be able to see what’s coming ahead and you want those approaching to be able to see you. This point can be illustrated by going against traffic, although it may seem counterintuitive, when walking or jogging on the road. This allows the walker to see the on-coming traffic as opposed to going with the traffic and unaware of the approaching traffic from behind. By wearing bright, reflective material, a walker/jogger is more visible and safer by going against traffic.
A second key principle is to recognize and to avoid the extremes. This can be applied in many ways. For example, areas of heavy traffic versus extremely isolated areas, heavy populated areas versus no one around, early morning versus late at night, or times of extreme cold versus extreme heat. These types of environmental conditions justify not using headphones for better hearing, not walking/jogging alone, preparing for adequate hydration in the heat, and so on. Regardless, extreme conditions require extra vigilance on your part.
A third key principle is to simply use your brain. While this seems obvious, it unfortunately gets ignored too often. Always remember the purpose of your exercise is for enjoyment and the health benefits. If these objectives could be compromised by going for a run at noon in 95-degree heat, or during morning rush hour in low light conditions, you should reconsider your plan. Before exercising in what could be a risky circumstance, you should ask yourself, ”Is there a safer option available?”
Last, be aware of the terrain and weather conditions. Walking or jogging on trails is a wonderful way to enjoy mother nature but exposed roots and rocks present a hazard for staying upright. Wet, muddy, or icy conditions also create an additional variable to consider so you can complete your session without accident.
The below table outlines specific safety tips that should help you stay safe in your activities.
From the University of Texas-San Antonio
When exercising outdoors, you must consider the elements and other factors that could place you at abnormal risk of injury or illness.
Heat Related Illness
Heat related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke contributed to 7233 deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2009. In a 2013 report released by the Center for Disease control, stated that about 658 deaths from heat related illnesses occurred every year which account for more deaths than tornadoes, hurricanes, and lightning combined. Of those deaths, most were male, older adults. 5
The number one risk factor associated with heat related illness is hydration. It is essentially the starting point of all heat related illness. Unfortunately, sweat loss can occur at a faster rate than you can replace with fluids during exercise, especially at high intensities. Even when trying to hydrate, ingestion of large amounts of fluids during exercise can lead to stomach discomfort. What does this mean? Hydration must begin before exercise and must become part of your daily routine.
Several practical methods of monitoring your hydration levels exists. One simple method, while not full proof, is to simply monitor the color of your urine. In a hydrated state, urination will occur frequently (every 2-3 hours) and urine will have very little color. In a dehydrated state, urination occurs infrequently in low volume and will become more yellow in color.
Another simple method involves weighing yourself before and after a workout (see lab). This is a great way to see first hand how much water weight is lost during an exercise session primarily as a result of sweat. Your goal is to maintain your pre and post body weight by drinking fluids during and after the workout to restore what was lost. When combined with urine-monitoring, a fairly accurate level of monitoring hydration can be achieved.
The best fluid for maintaining a hydrated state is simply drinking plenty of water throughout the day. In previous years, recommendations for the amount of water to drink were a one size fits all of about 48-64 oz. per day, per person. In an effort to individualize hydration, experts now recommend fluid intake based on your size, gender, activity levels, and climate. Generally, half an ounce (fluid ounces) to 1 ounce per pound of body weight is recommended.6 For a 150 lb. individual, this would mean 75-150 oz. of water per day! While there is still considerable debate over the exact amounts, you should continually monitor your hydration through the techniques mentioned previously as insufficient hydration leads to poor performance, poor health and potentially serious illness.
It should be noted that electrolyte “sport” drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.) are often used to maintain hydration. While they can be effective, these types of drinks were designed to replace electrolytes (potassium, sodium, chloride) that are lost in sweat during activity. In addition, they contain carbohydrates to assist in maintaining energy during activities of long duration. If the activity planned is shorter than 60 minutes in duration, water is still the recommended fluid. For activities beyond 60 minutes, a sports drink should be used.
Cold Related Illnesses
Much like hot environmental conditions, cold weather conditions can be equally as dangerous without taking proper precautions. However, unlike the heat, you are trying to prevent too much heat from being lost. The three major concerns related to cold-related illnesses are: hypothermia, frost-nip, and frost bite.
As in the case with heat related illness, the objective of preventing cold related illnesses is to maintain the proper body temperature of between 98.6 and 99.9 degrees Fahrenheit. If body temperature falls below 98.6 F, multiple symptoms may appear indicating the need to take action. Some of those symptoms include:
When walking or jogging in the cold it is important to take the necessary steps to avoid problems that can arise from the environmental conditions.