More Health:

April 05, 2023

How to walk – or run – 1,000 miles by America's 250th birthday

The 'Road to 2026,' the new fitness challenge created by Independence Blue Cross, is no easy feat. But with the right exercise regimen, it's quite feasible for people seeking to begin exercising

Fitness Exercise
New Exercise Regimen Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

The 'Road to 2026,' the new fitness challenge created by Independence Blue Cross, urges people to walk, run or hike 1,000 miles by July 4, 2026 – America's 250th birthday. Fitness experts say that gradual progression is the key to ramping up workouts safely.

Running 1,000 miles over the course of four years may seem like a daunting challenge – particularly for people who haven't laced up their sneakers for a workout in a while. But fitness experts say it is totally doable.

To motivate people to adopt healthier lifestyles – and to celebrate America's upcoming 250th birthday – Independence Blue Cross has created a new fitness challenge, "Road to 2026." It asks participants to walk, hike, run or wheel 1,000 miles by July 4, 2026. Participants also can choose to bicycle 10,000 miles. 

The challenge is broken into four 250-mile segments (or 2,500-mile segments for cyclists). People who track their miles online and complete each of the four milestones will receive medals and be entered to win various prizes. Anyone age 18 or older can register

Fitness experts advise people who do not currently adhere to exercise routines to start slowly and gradually increase the mileage of their workouts. Here's what that should look like.

How to start training

The goal for people who are just beginning to work out consistently is gradual progression, according to Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a Philadelphia-based physician with board certifications in obesity and internal medicine. 

"You can't make significant progress in one day, but you can hurt yourself significantly in one day," Seltzer explained.

For people seeking to participant in the "Road to 2026" challenge, it is important to determine which type of exercise they want to complete and to set specific but realistic goals, Seltzer said. When people push too hard too quickly, they increase the risk of overuse injuries like stress fractures, shin splints and Achilles tendonitis.

People who enjoy walking should initially set a bar of walking 10 minutes three times a week, Seltzer said. Then they should add five minutes every other week.

Whatever schedule one sets, it needs to be realistic, Seltzer said. Being able to consistently exercise two times a week for 20 minutes is better than planning to complete five hour-long workouts each week, but being unable to stick with it.

"Have a program written out instead of just winging it," he added. "You can always change it. You have to know what you are doing to know if it is working."

Chris Beck, head trainer at B3 Fitness in Philadelphia, recommended following the 10-15% rule. "If you walk four miles the first week, then increase your mileage by 10-15% each week. You want to gradually increase your mileage so you don't put too much stress on the body."

Beck advised people to focus on increasing their endurance first before upping the intensity of their workouts. 

"Don't go one to two miles more and increase your speed," he explained. "If you are feeling fatigue, it is OK to take a rest day, especially when just starting out. ... If you are constantly feeling tired and achy, stay at your current mileage until your body feels comfortable or take a deload week, where you are still working out, but you taper it down."

Fitness experts said it is a good idea to get evaluated by a health care provider before starting any new exercise regimen or to at least have a personal trainer examine the exercise plan to make sure it does not increase the risk for injury — especially for people who have never done anything like this before.

Include proper recovery time

Some soreness is expected as people begin to exercise, though it should go away as people exercise regularly, Seltzer said. But if people experience joint pain or signs of overtraining – illness, trouble sleeping, fatigue and chronic injuries — they should back off.

"Soreness after running is OK, but your ankle blowing up afterwards is not," he explained. He added that good nutrition is important for the body's recovery, so people should consume sufficient amounts of protein and vegetables.

When adding mileage, people should ensure they're eating enough whole grains, carbohydrates and protein, Beck said. He also advised people to stretch 10 to 15 minutes each day. He suggested foam rolling, light yoga and breathwork. 

To strengthen muscles, people also should incorporate one or two days of full-body strength training into their exercise plans, he said. 

Building a workout routine that includes cardio and strength training adds variety to one's exercise program. It also allows people to target multiple areas of the body throughout the week. Fitness experts advise people to work up to exercising four to five days each week. Rest days should be built in to allow the body to recover. 

Michael Shellenberger, a personal trainer with The Edge Fitness Clubs in Deptford, New Jersey, said one of the first things he does when working with new clients is to see how well they move and identify which movements they can do without pain.

To build confidence, he starts people with exercises they can do well already, whether that's squats, lunges, pushups or pull-ups, and progresses from there. He generally recommends people just beginning to exercise to start by completing two or three 30-minute workouts each work. But they should still avoid a sedentary lifestyle on the other days of the week.  

"You need to move every day," he emphasized. And he urged people to listen to their bodies to avoid injury. 

"If you have pain in your joints or lower back, stop and assess," he said. "It could be you are not using the correct form or that it is just an exercise you can't do yet."

The best way to prevent injury is to stretch before after exercising, said Theresa Gabriella-Frey, a former yoga instructor from Croydon, Bucks County. Swimming and sitting in a hot tub to relax one's muscles also can help. 

Gabriella-Frey, who encourages others on their health and wellness journeys through her Facebook page, No Yo-Yo Effect, Yoga Lift Breathe, said people who are looking to begin exercising again should consider beginning with yoga or Tai Chi because they will help the body get used to moving again. 

Follow us

Health Videos