The beauty of walking is almost anyone can do it and you don’t need special equipment. Humans were born to walk and run. All you need to get a workout is your two legs and a sturdy pair of walking shoes. Walking can be an effective cardiovascular exercise, as long as you walk briskly enough to boost your heart rate into the aerobic training zone.
Even if you don’t, you still get benefits from walking, as even lower intensity walking counters the negative effects of sitting too much. Research shows sitting is an independent risk factor for mortality from all causes. Your body was made to move, and move regularly! Of course, you want to make the most of your walking time.
Here are some ways to make your current walking routine safer and more effective.
Get Your Heart Rate into the Training Zone
To maximize the cardiovascular benefits of walking, make sure you boost your heart rate into the aerobic range.
How do you do this?
First, determine your maximum safe heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Then multiply this value by 0.6 and then 0.9. These numbers are your target heart rate range. You want your heart rate to stay between these two numbers. If you fall below the bottom end of the range, pick up the pace. If you go over, slow down a bit.
You can also wear a heart rate monitor or a fitness tracker when you walk, but if you don’t want to deal with tracking your heart rate, use the talk test.
Here’s how it works.
When you’re walking at the right pace, you should be able to talk in complete sentences, but not easily. However, if you’re too winded to get a full sentence out, you’re above your target heart range, while if you can sing a song, you’re walking at a low intensity, outside the aerobic training zone. After a while, you’ll get an intuitive feeling of when you’re in your aerobic training zone.
When you first start walking, keep your jaunt at a steady pace and your heart rate in the aerobic training zone, but there will come a time when you need more of a challenge. That’s when you can add intervals to your walking. To do this, walk at your standard pace for a minute or two, then increase the pace so you’re walking as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Really push yourself hard, because it’s only 30 seconds and will be over before you know it. It’s important to get your heart rate up during this short time. Recover by returning to your regular pace for a minute or two. Keep repeating. Intervals will challenge your cardiovascular system more than walking at a steady pace, and also increase the calorie burn.
Use A Step Counter
Most people take a lot fewer steps in a single day than they think. For example, someone with a sedentary lifestyle might only take 3000-4000 steps in a day. If your job requires you to be on your feet all day you might be taking 3-5 times that much! 10,000 steps a day is a very common daily target and a good number to aim for.
The 10,000 steps goal actually originated from a marketing campaign in Japan in 1964 prior to the Tokyo Olympics. In response to an increased drive for fitness, a company began selling a pedometer called “Manpo-kei” which translates to 10,000 steps meter. It became very popular and seems to have stuck as the worldwide “standard” that many people like to achieve as a minimum.
Studies have since shown that it’s a pretty good goal and the more steps the better! It’s far better for you to take 10,000 than 5000 steps. Depending on your lifestyle it may require a significant commitment to get that number of steps in daily, but it’s certainly achievable for most people. Especially if you get started early in the day! If you have a smartphone you can download one of the many free pedometer apps available. If you don’t want to carry your phone everywhere though you can buy a cheap pedometer on Amazon, or even a fitness tracker.
Use Walking Poles
Walking with a walking pole, also known as a trekking pole, in each hand will also boost the intensity of your walking workouts, increase the aerobic benefits, and burn more calories. You can buy trekking poles online or at a sporting good store. When you walk holding a pole in each hand, you use the poles to push your body forward. Another perk is that walking poles also work your upper body, which isn’t the case with regular walking. With trekking poles, your whole body gets in on the action and you get more benefits.
You might think that walking with trekking poles would be more tiring. However, research shows people who walk with trekking poles burn more calories without feeling like they’re working harder. That’s a win-win situation.
Tackle a Hill
Your body has to work harder when you walk on an uneven surface or an incline. Start by adding a modest hill to your workout. Then challenge yourself to add a steeper hill after a few weeks. Walking on a hill or incline forces your cardiovascular system to work harder, and that leads to greater aerobic fitness gains. Plus, your glutes get more of a workout for a more toned bottom when you walk at an incline.
If you’re walking on a treadmill, even setting it at 1 or 2% incline can simulate the slight inclines you would experience while walking outdoors and can be beneficial. This can be increased as you get used to incline walking.
Find a Trail
Walking on a wooded trail is one of the best ways to enjoy nature. It’s a perfect place to take your dog for a walk too if you have one. The inclines and uneven surface of a trail will challenge your body more than walking on smooth, flat pavement. Studies show that trees in a wooded area release natural chemicals called phytocides that have a calming effect on the mind and body and may enhance immune health. Walking outdoors can be a great stress reliever as well as being good for building fitness.
The Bottom Line
Walking is one of the most accessible ways to get a workout. Even if you’re short on time, there are ways to get a walking workout in most days. Walking first thing in the morning means you get it done even if other things come up, and you can enjoy the beauty of a sunrise too. Another option is to walk during your lunch hour or take an after-dinner walk. However or whenever you do it, keep walking for good health!
MayoClinic.org. “Could walking poles help me get more out of my daily walk?”
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Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan; 15(1): 9-17.Published online 2009 Mar 25. doi: 10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3.