Even the most committed walkers will admit that sometimes, putting one foot in front of the other can get a little boring, especially if it's the same old route or the same old piece of treadmill rubber. Never fear -- boredom relief is here. The tips that follow will keep you happily walking well into the next millennium.
Assault your senses. You can't possibly get bored on the treadmill when you're listening to music, watching the news on TV, talking to your mother on the phone and reading a magazine or two.
Listen to music. "There's no question that listening to music can help an exerciser," says Jack A. Taylor, director of the Center for Music Research at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "It keeps a steady beat going, and the research clearly shows that music puts your mind into a mild state of euphoria."
Customize your music. "I keep a note pad in my car and write down songs I like, ones that have a good beat for walking," says Gabrielle Buckley, an avid Southern California walker. "When my list gets to 12, I give it to a guy at my gym and he makes a tape for me."
Teach yourself to whistle.
Plan your reading. "I save those long articles in the New Yorker for my treadmill sessions," says Ms. Buckley. "A good long one takes me about 45 minutes to read, which is perfect for the treadmill."
Practice the Relaxation Response. Harvard University's Dr. Herbert Benson has proved that this technique significantly reduces symptoms of physical stress, including blood pressure. "While walking, focus on a repetition. If you're spiritual, repeat a prayer while you're walking," he advises. "If you're not, repeat something else or focus on your footfalls."
Count squirrels. Or sea gulls. Or sports cars.
Make a date. One woman sticks with her walking program because a friend is waiting for her at 7:15 in the morning. The commitment gets her out of the house; the talk makes the walk fun.
Learn a foreign language on your headphones.
Walk the dog. Not only do you get a purpose to your outing, but you get a good listener, too.
Exercise your wallet as well as your body. Join in a mall walk and window shop while you walk, then reward a good workout with a small purchase.
Vary your routes. "We have all kinds of routes," says Linda Fitzgerald, an exercise physiologist who leads a YMCA walking group in Palo Alto, Calif. "We have shady routes for hot days and sunny routes for cool days, and we have some pretty walks through the Stanford University campus."
Monitor your heart. "Heart monitors are coming on stronger -- many people really love to see changes in the numbers," says Ruth Stricker, owner of a health club in Minnesota that sponsors a walking program. Watching your numbers improve is powerful motivation to keep walking.
Monitor your legs. Clip on a pedometer, and watch the miles add up.
Listen to books on tape. You'll exercise your mind as well as your body.
Start a walking club. Don't invite people with very strong opinions on politics or religion.
Walk for charity. The camaraderie and do-goodism will keep you moving.
Bird-watch. "I look for robins and sparrows and bluebirds when I walk," says one walker. "It stimulates the mind and keeps me focused."
Sing along with the great opera arias on your personal stereo. If it isn't safe to walk with headphones on, sing the great opera arias anyway.
Do several mini-walks in a day: Walk to lunch, take the stairs, park a few blocks away from the market and walk.
Read trashy magazines on the treadmill -- much trashier than you'd let yourself read at home.
Don't step on the cracks.
Walk backward for a while. "It gives you cross-training benefits -- and it keeps you alert," says Tim Culwell, a Denver personal trainer.
Be a big shot. Talk on a cell phone while you walk.
Wear a water carrier. You'll stay hydrated, which will keep your energy up.
Fantasize. Write a mental soap opera starring all those gym rats you have to stare at while you're on the treadmill.
Plan a walking vacation. It will give your workouts a goal, as well as give you something to daydream about while you walk.
Watch "Monty Python's Flying Circus" on video, and look for John Cleese as the Minister of Silly Walks. You'll never find walking dull again.
Pace your mail carrier. "They've developed an art and science out of walking," says Kevin Burns, a personal trainer in St. Paul, Minn. "Walk along and chat with him or her."
Walk your daily errands. "Find safe, comfortable routes to your library, video store and market, and put on a backpack," says Burns.
Plan your weekly menus in your head.
Have an imaginary conversation with a historical figure. "Imagine that Eleanor Roosevelt or Gandhi is on the treadmill next to you," says Burns.
Get vertical. Challenge yourself with neighborhood hills, or crank up the incline on the treadmill.
Nature walk. Seek out routes blessed with woods, beaches, parks or gardens.