Several evenings a week, Eileen Martin grabs her MP3 player, clips a leash to her frisky schnauzer Jasmine and steps out for a quick-paced 40-minute walk. The combination of upbeat music, an eager canine companion and interesting scenery has proven to be a perfect weight loss formula for the 50-year-old Thornhill, Ont., office manager. Sticking to a basic walking program and improving her eating habits have helped this self-confessed former yo-yo dieter and couch potato to lose 20 pounds over the past year.
Martin is doing everything correctly, according to Mavis Derksen, a walking coach from Saskatoon, Sask. “For weight loss, most people need to walk briskly for at least 30 minutes about five times per week,” suggests Derksen. “Beginners can start with as little as two, 15-minute walks per week and then gradually increase the length of time and number of walks,” she adds. Derksen says it’s important to make sure you’re doing more than just a stroll. “Challenge yourself until you feel your breathing rate is elevated, but you shouldn’t be gasping for breath,” she says.
To zap extra calories, combine healthy eating habits with your walking program. “It’s unrealistic to expect people to eat perfectly,” says Derksen, “but good nutrition is essential for weight loss.” Keep it simple by following Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating or consult with a registered dietitian. Check out our Canada’s Food Guide meal plan for a seven-day menu.
Need more motivation to cut calories? Research shows that people who combine exercise and healthy eating, rather than just dieting alone, also build strong bones and muscles as they lose weight.
“When you’re overweight, chaffing between your legs, under your arms or around the bra-line can make walking miserable,” says Hayley Sears of Diabeaters, a company that sells health and fitness products for people with diabetes. She recommends rolling on a non-greasy, non-messy friction-reducer like Body Glide to vulnerable areas. It reduces the skin irritation and also moisturizes cracked and dry skin.
Invest in some of the new synthetic-fabric socks and shirts that wick moisture away from your skin and keep you dry. Cotton sweatpants and T-shirts hold onto perspiration and get heavy and bulky with exercise. If it’s cool or drizzly, wear an exercise jacket with a long back. The extra fabric keeps out the wind and covers your rear, a bonus for exercisers who are self-conscious about being seen in exercise apparel.
If you have trouble reaching your shoelaces or find getting in and out of your walking shoes a bother, turn your shoes into slip-ons with elasticized laces from your local athletic shoe retailer.
Sticking with a routine over an extended period can be a new exerciser’s biggest challenge. “Many people find that a walking journal can be a powerful motivator,” says Susan Cantwell, a lifestyle coach from Fredericton, N.B. Record information such as your walking route, how many minutes you walk, how you feel afterward, what you eat and your weight after each outing. “If your program is on paper, you can evaluate it and see what’s working and what isn’t,” says Cantwell. “Not tracking your progress makes it hard to see your successes.”