Working with Walkers

Walking is a good introduction to other exercise, so know these basics when helping your clients make the transition.

"I have to admit, I was skeptical about starting a community walking program in hopes of getting people to join our fitness center; however, lots of people signed up. And, some of them took advantage of the promotional offer of free visits to the club. Participants say they have much more energy and fewer aches and pains. With the shorter days and cold weather moving in, a few joined the facility, and some even started personal training."

Of all physical activities, walking is the most accessible. All you need is a little motivation, a good pair of shoes, and a safe sidewalk or trail. Indeed, walking is so commonplace, many forget that walking can also be exercise. When done with sufficient intensity and frequency, a regular walking program confers numerous health benefits. Many studies have found that people who walk regularly have lower risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and other chronic illnesses.1,2,4

Program recommendations for walkers

Walking programs often attract people for whom previous fitness programs have failed. People who may have felt awkward on sports teams or in group exercise classes, or unfit for the fitness center, can be successful walkers. Developing a regular walking habit can help people new to exercise lay the ground work for lifelong physical activity - activity that may eventually go beyond a daily walk.

If you find yourself working with walkers who have wandered into the fitness center and are curious about your programs, here are some ideas for helping them expand their fitness options.

Recognize their success. Congratulate them on their walking program success. After all, finding the time and effort required for regular exercise is a challenge. Your recognition will make your walkers feel more confident in taking the next step.

Get the details. Ask them why a walking program worked so well for them. What are the factors that encouraged adherence? Keep these factors in mind as you consider your exercise recommendations.

Explore their feelings. Walking often has emotional benefits that can help clients continue with their healthy lifestyle plans. Be sure your exercise recommendations deliver the emotional health benefits your clients are looking for.

Take it easy. Walking may have worked because your client dislikes more strenuous activity. You may be itching to up the pace, add some running or include cardio machines to your recommendations. But, if higher-intensity exercise leads to dropout, you will lose your client.

Keep it simple. Walking programs are often successful because they are simple and easy to follow. Avoid pushing clients too quickly into confusing and complicated exercise recommendations.

Make it social. Walking programs may offer an opportunity to socialize. Many people enjoy walking and talking with friends. Encourage clients to bring these friends along to the fitness center, as well.

Set a goal. One study found that people who set a daily step goal, such as 10,000 steps a day, tend to walk more than those who strive for a certain time period, such as 30 minutes a day.3 Be sure to set specific goals, and design a good record-keeping system for the activities you recommend.

Stay smart. Include walking as the foundation of an expanded exercise program. Unless clients express a desire to quit walking, follow the tried and true adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." If weather prohibits outdoor walking, teach clients how to use the treadmill. They may wish to include a mixture of indoor and outdoor activity in their exercise programs. Strength training and other fitness options may be built on to a basic walking program.

Consider health and fitness goals, and activities that complement walking. Recommend exercise options that are appealing to your clients, and help them reach their health and fitness goals.

1. Caspersen, C.J., and J.E. Fulton. Epidemiology of walking and type 2 diabetes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 40(7S): S519-S528, 2008.
2. Hamer, M., and Y. Chida. Walking and primary prevention: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. British Journal of Sports Medicine 42(4): 238-243, 2007.
3. Hultquist, C.N., C. Albright and D.L. Thompson. Comparison of walking recommendations in previously inactive women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 37(4): 676-683, 2005.
4. Lee, I.M., and D.M. Buchner. The importance of walking to public health. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 40(7S): S512-S518, 2008.
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