How a Man Can Get Started Walking for Health and Fitness

Group of Men Walking
Susan Chiang/E+/Getty Images

While walking is a healthy activity for men, some are resistant to it. The reasons can be that walking doesn't seem like real exercise. You may envision seniors circling the mall, much older than you imagine yourself to be. You may remember seeing Olympic racewalkers strutting in that odd, rhythmic style, arms flailing and hips swinging. If that's what it takes for walking to be a sport, you may rather do something else.

The problem is that many men don't get enough physical activity, and walking is the easiest way for most people to achieve it. Here are some ideas on how to target the male psyche to get yourself or your male friend or spouse walking for health and fitness.

Dangling the Bait

There can be several paths to the realization that you can and should take up walking.

The Health Wake-Up Call: You may learn your blood pressure is higher than it should be or that you are showing signs of raised risks for diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Your doctor may recommend walking as an exercise to reduce these health risks. A typical program is starting with 15 minutes per day and working up to 30 or more minutes per day, five or more days per week.

The Need for Speed: At first, you may just walk to be walking. But if you see yourself as athletic, it can be hard to just walk. Even if you were basically sedentary before starting, it can seem too slow. In fact, you may be walking too slow and not getting your heart rate into the moderate intensity zone where you will get the the benefits of reducing health risks.

You want to set a brisk walking pace after warming up for a few minutes. At this pace, you are breathing a little harder than normal. If you love numbers, find the target heart rate is right for your age and measure your heart rate while walking to see whether you are walking fast enough. You may need to learn good walking technique and proper form in order to walk faster

The Subtle Challenge: If you are not the man in question but want to inspire the man in your life to start walking, you might drop a subtle challenge. For example, "Did you know that a healthy walker takes over 150 steps per minute?" It may sound innocent, but a competitive guy will soon be counting steps under his breath on the way through the parking lot. Once you have that man's interest, you've got to get him up off the couch cushions and on to the streets.

Setting the Hook

If you are trying to get a male significant other to walk and to stick with it, you might consider some of the barriers he may face and how to overcome them.

Pretend you are hiking. For some men, hiking seems more like real exercise than just walking. Even if you are hiking in the urban jungle, telling yourself it is a hike rather than a walk may be motivating. If you are using a treadmill, put on videos of hiking trails and set an automated hill workout. If you are walking outdoors, you may even want to use trekking poles, which have the benefit of boosting your workout.

Bend your arms. To improve your walking pace, using a bent arm technique is best. However, you may have a bad attitude toward it based on stereotypes of speedwalkers flinging their arms in the air. The good news is that the arm motion should be natural and not extreme. You should keep your arms close to your body with your elbows going forward and back, not side to side. Your hands should not come up past your breastbone. If you feel self-conscious, first do it when nobody else is around. Use arm motion while on a treadmill facing a mirror at the gym so you can see that it doesn't look strange or unnatural.

Poor health feels bad. You may be tired of being overweight, or out of breath, or just plain inactive. Being unhealthy doesn't fit your best self-image. Knowing that there is something you can control to improve your health can motivate you to stick with it.

Get cool shoes. If you go to the store to ask for walking shoes they will often point to some plain white or black clunky leather shoes. They may durable and suitable for some people, but they aren't usually the best choice for brisk walking. A lower heel and a flexible forefoot are needed if you want to pick up speed. Comfort counts in the beginning, so just about anything comfortable is OK, even trail shoes or hiking boots. But cool-looking running shoes can be the best shoes for fitness walking. Do yourself a favor and go to the most serious running shoe store in your area to be fitted for walking shoes. You are likely to come away with shoes that make you feel like an athlete and perform much better.

Data data data. You have many choices for tracking your walking activities. Get a fitness monitor or smartwatch that includes a heart rate sensor. You'll be able to track your heart rate and whether you are walking briskly enough to be in the moderate intensity zone. Fitness monitors pair with smartphone apps so you can see your steps, active minutes, heart rate, and more each day. You can see the changes that you make over time.

If you resolutely don't want a fitness monitor, you can do it the old-school way. Start a log. Log anything. How many days did you walk this week? What are your total miles? Getting any faster? Getting your heart rate in the target zone? Seeing the results of your efforts in black and white can be the motivation you need.

Compliments Go a Long Way

It is one thing for a guy to chart his own fitness efforts. But it can be very motivating to have them noticed by others. One man relates how he was walking down the side of a road on his daily fitness walk when a car slowed behind him and a female voice said, "Hey fella—nice butt." No, it wasn't sexual harassment—it was his wife paying a compliment. He gave her a kiss and told her he would meet her at home in a few more minutes.

Be sure to encourage the man in your life when he puts in the time to invest in his health. Notice the results and keep him moving.