YOUNG or old, active or sedentary, practically anyone can appreciate the benefits a quick walk has to offer. As a form of low-impact exercise, walking serves as both cardiovascular and weight-bearing activity. Give your walking routine a makeover with these eight tips.
Speed up and go farther
Perhaps the easiest way to increase the calorie burn and challenge of your endurance is to increase the speed of your gait, as well as the distance you cover. Walking faster engages more muscles and increases your heart rate in a gradual but effective way, which helps strengthen the cardiovascular system and decrease the risk for lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity. One easy way to kickstart a quicker pace is to listen to music with an upbeat tempo while you walk.
Track your progress
Motivating yourself to transform your walk into more of a workout may be as simple as tracking your progress—i.e., number of steps taken or distance traveled—and then setting new goals each week that increase those numbers by 5 to 10 percent. Wearable fitness technology like Fitbits and Bellabeats offer these capabilities and has become an ever-growing trend in the fitness world.
Walk in water
Ever heard of aqua jogging or pool running? Often an avenue of rehabilitation for injured runners, this fun form of exercise is becoming more and more popular with different athletes and people simply looking to spice up their workout routine. Aqua jogging involves walking or jogging in the deep end of a pool where your feet can’t touch the bottom while wearing a buoyant aqua jogging belt that helps keep you afloat. You may think the weightlessness of being in water would simplify your walk; however, the resistance on your body is so much more than when you’re on dry land and it takes extra effort to get your heart rate up.
Join a club
If you need a little boost of support to take your walk to the next level, a walking group or club may be just the ticket. Walking with other people serves as a social activity and holds you accountable to more than just yourself when it comes to getting exercise. Look for local walking groups on Meetup.com or at your local gym or senior center. For people with mobility limitations, specialized mobility aids like walking canes or rollator walkers can help keep you moving while a walking club of similarly-abled individuals can help keep you inspired.
Take your daily walks off the treadmill or outside the mall and into the wilderness. Hiking is essentially walking in nature but with more challenges to your balance, coordination, agility, and endurance because of the varying terrain. Look online for beginner hiking trails near you and head out on an adventure with a friend. Don’t forget to wear sun protection, take plenty of water with you and map out the trail ahead of time so you don’t accidentally get lost.
Head for the hills
Changing your walking route to include more hills is a surefire way to engage more leg muscles and burn more calories. Moderate to steep inclines are more difficult to traverse and require added strength and coordination. By working in more hills during your daily walks—whether it’s a new route in your neighborhood or simply more incline on the treadmill—you’ll not only tone more leg muscles like your calves and hamstrings but you’ll build up endurance as well.
Ramp up the intensity
Incorporating small bursts of high-intensity interval training into your walk can play an important role in boosting your metabolism and muscle gains. Thirty seconds to one minute of intense exercises like squats, planks, sprinting or plyometric jump squats sprinkled in every five minutes or so of your walk will rapidly get your heart rate up, and over time it may also improve your own anaerobic power, velocity and neuromuscular status.
Walking is considered a weight-bearing activity because it requires your body to work against the force of gravity—i.e., in lifting up your legs one by one from the ground. When you add weight to your person, the energy and strength you need to counter gravity increases, thus helping you burn more calories and build more muscle. You can add weight to your walk by carrying a daypack with heavy items in it (like water bottles) or sporting a weighted vest under your workout clothes.