Welcome to the Start TODAY Walking Challenge. Sign up for our free Start TODAY newsletter to join the challenge with Al Roker and receive daily inspiration sent to your inbox. Then, join us on the Start TODAY Facebook group for tips and motivation, to connect with others following the plan — and to get real-time advice from trainer Stephanie Mansour!
A lot of folks call the holiday season the most wonderful time of the year — which it really can be! But the flip side of all the hustle and bustle that brings us so much joy is that it can also leave us stressed, sleep-deprived and with too little time for our own self-care. Not to mention that shorter, darker days and cold weather take a toll on the mental health of many people during the winter months.
So how can we still feel good physically when embracing the holiday spirit means lots of social obligations, errands to run and meals with temptations? By prioritizing a totally doable fitness routine that will keep us healthy and happy! If you want to make sure this holiday season stays merry and bright instead of stressy and messy, give yourself the gift of committing to this 31-day cardio and walking challenge.
The goal of the 31-day cardio and walking challenge
This month’s workout plan is designed to help you fit fitness in without stressing you out. We’ll focus on incorporating quick bursts of cardio into small moments of downtime, which will keep you moving and feeling good without demanding a lot of time — which we know is in short supply this time of year.
If you already have a walking practice or are doing our 5K training program, think of this challenge as an add-on. Doing an extra 10 minutes of cardio will definitely help your progress. If you don’t have any fitness habits at all, this challenge is a great way to get started!
With just a few minutes of cardio activity, you’ll get a rush of feel-good endorphins that can boost your energy levels and mood. Establishing an indoor routine ensures that unpredictable winter weather is never a deterrent to getting in some exercise. You can literally do this routine anywhere — your living room, your in-law’s house, a tiny hotel room — without needing much space or any equipment.
How to participate in the challenge
First of all, congratulations! It’s not easy to take on a fitness challenge this time of year. The good news is that you’re not alone. You can sign up for our daily newsletter and join the Start TODAY Facebook group to get connected with other people who are participating.
Here are 4 steps to take to make sure your month is a success:
- Write down your WHY. Think about why you want to do this challenge and write it down. Whether you want to stay fit so that you feel happier or maybe you wish you had more energy to play with your kids, your reason is bound to be complex. You probably have more than one reason. But for the sake of giving yourself a reminder, boil it all down to one word. “Happy,” or “kids,” or “sanity” are all great! Write that word down and whenever you get stressed this month, use that one word as a reminder that you are actively working to stay healthy.
- Tag a friend to join you. There’s no reason to go it alone — unless you want to. Figure out who you’re going to do this challenge with. If you have a friend who will join you locally, that’s great! Plan to do your workouts together. If not, ask someone in the Facebook group to be your accountability buddy and arrange virtual workouts or check-ins. You can also post in the group as often as you like. We are all each other’s workout pals there!
- Keep track of your progress. Print out a copy of the challenge and put it up somewhere you can see it. That way you can mark off each day and see your progress. If you’re more digital, you can keep a pic of the plan on your plan and mark it using your phone’s photo editor. Just make sure you have a way to keep track! And bookmark this article or send it to yourself if you know you’re going to want to see Steph’s instructions for the exercises again.
- Make a plan. Plan out times to do your workouts. This plan is meant to fit into the nooks and crannies of your everyday life, so you don’t need to put it on your calendar, but you do need to think about ways to remember to do it. Maybe you’ll do half the routine when you brush your teeth in the morning and half when you brush your teeth at night. Maybe you’ll use every commercial break as a cue to get up and move. Be specific about when you’re going to work out so that your brain can make it into a habit!
One of the realities of life is that things often get in the way — especially this time of year. The best way to overcome obstacles is to think about how to get around them in advance. For example, if you know that Christmas Day is going to be hectic for you, think about that now. Maybe on that day, you’ll do your cardio before you even get in the shower or even while you’re cooking. Basically, if there are days that you know it’s going to be more challenging to get to the challenge, have a backup plan.
The truth is, though, that no plan is ever foolproof and it’s likely that you’ll miss a day. Figure out right now how many days you can miss before you think it’s a problem and what you’re going to do if it becomes a problem. Having an accountability partner is crucial for the moments when you need to tell on yourself to get back on track. Ask them now to remind you why you’re doing this challenge on the days you just can’t remember.
Definitely plan to be kind to yourself no matter what happens. No one is perfect and you deserve all the compassion and understanding that you would show anyone you care about. Give yourself permission to shrug off a missed day or two.
The 31-day cardio and walking workout plan
The schedule is simple: We will alternate between a fun indoor cardio routine and a simple walk or stretch — and you can do both if you have the time! The idea is to commit to just 10 minutes of moving your body in a way that feels good and gives you that much-needed burst of endorphins. Chances are good that once you get moving, you will want to keep going. Regardless of what your schedule looks like, start with just 10 minutes to ensure you get some movement in — no matter what.
Since this is a cardio-based routine —not strength training — you can do it every single day! But if you have a walking routine that you want to stick with — that’s great! — you’ll see your walking routine on the calendar every other day as an alternate option to the indoor cardio routine.
Some days you may feel like you need more of a stretch. In that case, try one of the 5-minute routines from our 30-day stretch plan.
10-minute indoor cardio routine
You can do this cardio workout while listening to your favorite songs, a podcast or even while watching a cheesy holiday movie.
These five moves have both low-impact and high-impact options. Choose the version of each exercise that works for you and perform each one for 60 seconds before moving on to the next. Repeat the circuit once more through for two times total. After the 10 minutes, you’ll be feeling slightly out of breath, a tiny bit sweaty and a heck of a lot happier!
Use this test to determine if low-impact or high-impact exercise is best for you.
10-minute low-impact routine
Walk/jog in place
Walking in place is just as simple as it sounds — walk in place for 60 seconds. Swing your arms, smile and breathe in and out through your nose.
March in place, bring one knee up toward your chest to hip height and then switch to the other side. If balance is a challenge for you, march near a wall or chair in case you need to put a hand on it for support.
Side toe taps
Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, tap your right foot out to the right and then come back to center. Then tap your left foot out to the left and come back to center. Keep tapping right then left, alternating for 60 seconds.
Start with your feet as wide as your hips and arms down by your sides. Tap your right foot out to the right (like you did for a side tap) and reach both arms up overhead. Then bring the right foot back to center and the arms back down by your sides. Tap the left foot out to the left and reach the arms overhead, then bring the arms down and the foot back to center. Repeat as quickly as you can, alternating for 60 seconds.
Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, kick the heel of your right foot up and back toward your right glute. Repeat with your left. Continue alternating for 60 seconds.
Repeat all five exercises for one more round.
10-minute high-impact routine
Jogging in place
For high impact, turn your walk into a jog in place!
Running in place with high knees
For high impact, run in place with high knees. Pump your arms as you raise your knees to hip height.
Jumping side toe taps
For high impact, jump through center as you move through the taps!
For high impact, jump both feet out to the sides as you raise the arms out to the sides and overhead. Bring the arms down as you jump the feet back to center.
Jogging butt kicks
For high impact, jump up while you kick one heel towards your glutes and then the other! Keep alternating from side to side.
Repeat all five exercises for one more round.