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Starting a Running or Walking Program - FAQs

Friday, January 15, 2010 Posted by Travis Saunders

Image by MikeBaird.

We spend a lot of time on this blog discussing the benefits of physical activity. But if you want to become more active by starting a walking or jogging program, where should you begin? This post is the first in a two-part series where we will try to give you the tools necessary to begin a new walking or running program. Today’s post will focus on some of the most frequent questions that we’ve received from people who are looking to start a new program. On Monday, we will give a series of steps that will help you get started on your new walking/running plan, and also offer some resources that we think may help you on your way. The following questions are ones that we have been asked, but the list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to post your own questions in the comments section, and if we can’t answer them ourselves, we will do our best to find someone who can!

Question 1. I haven’t run (or walked) in years (or ever). Is it safe for me to start training?

For most people, the health risk associated with a physically inactive lifestyle is probably far greater than the risk associated with a low intensity walking program.  Nevertheless, there is risk associated with any training program. For that reason, you should meet with a qualified health professional before starting any fitness program. In this situation, I would recommend that you meet with a CSEP Certified Exercise Physiologist (CEP). A CEP is a trained health professional who is legally qualified to assess your fitness, design a training program, or refer you to a physician if it is medically warranted. For information on where you can find a CEP in your vicinity, contact the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. American readers can contact the American College of Sports Medicine, which offers certifications roughly similar to the CEP designation.

Question 2. I want a workout that is more intense than walking, but I don't enjoy running.  What do you suggest?

This is something that I have noticed a lot in my parents’, friends, and family. Many people don’t like running, and that’s fine. For a bit harder workout without running, you have a few excellent options. Cycling is one fantastic option, and one that my parents engage in almost daily in the summer months. If (like me) you live in a location that makes cycling in winter difficult, you can purchase a wind-trainer for under $150 that will allow you to turn your road bike into a stationary bike, so that you can get in your spinning workout year-round.

Another option which is becoming very popular in my friends and family above the age of 50 is Nordic Walking (aka pole walking). My girlfriend runs weekly Nordic Walking sessions here in Ottawa, and they have become surprisingly popular. You work harder than if you were simply walking since you are engaging your arms and core as you swing the poles, but it is still much less intense than running.  I used Nordic Walking as a form of cross-training during the fall, and you can definitely tell that you are working harder than regular walking, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone looking to increase the intensity of their current walking routine. A good pair of Leki poles costs about $100, and are available at most running and outdoor stores.

Question 3. I want to start a running program - is it ok to take walk breaks?

Walk breaks are an excellent option when starting out a new running program. Instead of trying to run for 30 minutes at once, you can run for 10 minutes, and then take a 1 minute walk break. If 10 minutes is too long, then try taking a break every 5 minutes, or even every 2 minutes. Also remember that you don’t need to sprint every time you go for a run (this is something I have to warn Peter against on a regular basis!). Some people like to run hard (e.g. Peter), some people like to run slow (e.g. me), so try to find the pace that is comfortable for you, and that will allow you to run for at least 2 minutes without a break. Once you can comfortably run for 2 minutes, increase the interval to 5 minutes, and eventually 10.

Question 4. What kind of results can I expect?

This obviously depends on the type of training you undertake - the greater the intensity and volume of exercise you perform, the greater the changes you are likely to see.  After 2-3 months of consistent training, you are likely to feel better first and foremost, and you may also see a small but important reduction in your waist circumference. In the short-term, you are unlikely to see dramatic changes in body weight, if any changes at all. That’s ok, because exercise is associated with tremendous health benefits even without any change in body weight. But it’s important to know that even if your body weight isn’t going down by very much, your health risk probably is.  If you maintain your lifestyle changes for an extended period of time (e.g. more than a year) you may gradually see more significant changes in your weight and body fat distribution, but exercise alone is unlikely to result in dramatic (e.g. >10-20 lbs) changes in body weight. 


These are the questions that I've been asked most often by friends and family who are interested in starting a walking or running program, but I'm sure I've missed a lot of great questions.  If you have any questions, please share them in the comments section below.  Or, if you've recently started a walking or running program, is there a question you wish you had asked before starting?  Do you have any advice for people about to embark on a training plan of their own?  We'd love to hear from you!

Travis Saunders

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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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