Few forms of exercise are as simple, convenient and seamless as walking. It's a low-impact activity that almost anyone can do. Studies show walking can help build bone density, reduce stress and anxiety, and make it easier to lose weight.
A bonus: Walking is an instant mood-lifter. The only equipment you need (and it's not strictly required) is a good pair of walking shoes.
Walking Workout Basics
If your goal is to turn your walk into a workout, there are several steps you can take to get the most out of a 45-minute session:
- Practice good form: When you're walking, it's important to pay attention to form and posture. Stand tall, relax your shoulders and bend your elbows to make a 90-degree angle. When you strike the pavement, land on your heel and roll through your foot.
- Use your arms: You'll get more out of your walking workout if you incorporate your upper body. The more muscles you engage while you're walking, the greater the impact. Make a fist and pump your arms or hold hand weights to boost your heart rate. To add intensity, swing your arms more vigorously.
- Add weight: While a brisk walk is great cardiovascular exercise, you can kick things up a notch by incorporating weights to your workout. Carry light dumbbells, wear a weighted vest or even carry a backpack. Start with less weight and add more as you get stronger.
- Alternate speeds: Switching up your speed burns more calories than maintaining a steady pace. So consider building intervals into your workouts. Start slowly, then gradually increase your pace to a brisk walk. Once you've adopted a steady pace, alternate between moderate-intensity and high-intensity walking. Use stop signs, telephone poles or park benches to signal a change of pace. The longer you maintain the quicker pace, the harder your muscles will work and the more calories you’ll burn. Better yet, incorporate resistance exercises, such as squats and lunges, into your route.
- Step on an incline: Adding an incline or stairs to your walk increases the number of calories you burn and helps build core strength. Walk the stairs at a local park or stadium or climb a neighborhood hill. Running on sand or gravel can have a similar effect. Walking on a treadmill? Choose the interval training option with an incline.
Walk It Off
People tend to underestimate the power of walking. From improving circulation and cardiovascular health to strengthening bones and boosting mood, walking boasts a slew of health benefits. Follow it up with some easy stretching and balancing exercises and you have a well-rounded workout.
Don't have an hour to kill every day? Try taking several shorter power walks. Park your car as far away from the store as possible. Sneak in 15-minute walks between work projects. Better yet, meet a friend for a three-mile walk. You can gauge whether you're reaching your target heart rate if it's tough for you to carry on a conversation.
Nick Parkinson, M.Ed., AT, ATC, TSAC-F Supervisor of Athletic Training with Henry Ford Sports Medicine, also leads Sports Performance training at the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine. He is a regular contributor to Henry Ford LiveWell. Learn more about Nick.