Walking is good way to stay in shape. You can do it almost anywhere – outdoors, on a treadmill, on a trail, in the park or at the local mall. If you’ve been walking for a while – congratulations! Here’s a high five for making exercise a priority. Too many people don’t. On the other hand, it may be time to make walking harder. Harder you say? Why would I want to do that? To get more benefits, of course!
Why It’s Important to Gradually Increase the Intensity of a Walking Workout
Here’s the scoop. Your body adapts to a walking program and becomes more efficient at doing it. That’s good because it means you’re in better shape BUT you’re also burning fewer calories doing it. In addition, you’re not challenging your body as much as when you first started.
Chances are you lost weight when you first began walking but now your weight loss has ground to a halt because your body is so efficient at doing it. Your walking program is essentially on “cruise control.” The good news is there are some adjustments that will help you burn more calories walking and get more benefits.
Our goal is to help you “jump start” your walking programs so you’ll get more benefits from it. This assumes you’ve been walking for a while and are ready to push yourself a little harder. By trying some of these approaches you’ll make your walking workout more interesting too. Isn’t it time to shake things up a little and get some new results?
What is interval walking? It’s a way to increase the intensity of your workout by increasing the speed for periods of time. Rather than walk at the same speed throughout your workout, increase the intensity so you’re walking as fast as you can for short periods of time. For example, walk at a relaxed pace for one minute. Then pick up the speed for 30 seconds so you’re huffing and puffing. Alternate back and forth. You’ll burn significantly more calories doing interval walking.
You can interval walk on a treadmill or do it outdoors. Your intervals don’t necessarily have to be structured. As you’re walking outdoors, find a landmark and walk towards it as briskly as you can. Once you get there, recover before doing it again. Once interval walking becomes easier, try jogging or running for short intervals. The key is to increase the intensity once it becomes too easy.
Wear a Weighted Vest
By wearing a weighted vest when you walk, you’ll burn more calories because you’re carrying more weight. There’s another benefit to walking with a weighted vest on. Research shows it places greater stress on your bones, causing cells called osteoblasts to make new bone tissue. That’s important for preventing osteoporosis.
Unweighted walking generally isn’t enough to boost bone density, unless you’re doing some running or jogging. Weighted vests are comfortable to wear these days and you can buy adjustable ones so you can adjust the weight as you get fitter. I have a weighted vest I wear around the house, and sometimes when I run, and it’s quite comfortable.
Head for the Hills
Walking at a moderate pace on a flat surface burns around 230 calories per hour. Walking that same pace at an incline burns just over 400 calories an hour. Quite a difference, huh? Hill walking will also improve your cardiovascular endurance more than walking on a flat surface. Add a ten-pound weight vest and go up the same hill and the calorie burn rises to over 500 calories per hour. Who says you have to run to burn a lot of calories? By making a few adjustments, walking can burn as many calories as running – without the impact on your joints.
Grab Some Walking Poles
According to a study carried out at the Cooper Institute in Texas, walking with walking poles, also known as Nordic walking, boosts calorie burn by 20%. That’s significant! What’s even better is it doesn’t feel like you’re working any harder. More calories with the same perceived effort? That’s a sweet deal.
Nordic walking poles also work the muscles in your shoulders and neck and help to improve your posture and balance. It’s a way to turn a walking routine into a total body workout. The movements you make when you Nordic walk are beneficial if you sit hunched over a keyboard all day. It’s surprising you don’t see more people taking advantage of this way to burn more calories walking. It adds a whole new dimension to a walking routine.
Listen to Music When You Walk
Research shows listening to music during exercise makes a workout feel easier and increases endurance by up to 20%. The key is to listen to fast-paced music and synchronize your walking to the beat. You can even find special music mixes recorded at a fixed tempo to help improve your walking or running speed.
One word of caution. Don’t do this if you’re walking outdoors and need to be aware of the sounds around you – like cars. It works well if you walk or run on a treadmill though. Music really makes a difference. I downloaded Podrunner and use it when I run on the treadmill. Using their high-energy music that plays at certain tempos, I’m able to run faster and longer.
Find a Fitness Trail
Does your city have a park with a fitness trail? A fitness trail has stations along a path where you stop to do a strength exercise at set intervals. For example, in our area, we have a Greenway. A portion of the Greenway has a fitness trail where there are stations set up to do exercises like sit-ups, leg lifts etc. You walk or jog along the path and stop at each station to do the designated exercise. It’s a way to turn your fitness walk into a total body workout – and keep it interesting too.
By the way, walking on any type of trail burns more calories than walking on a flat, smooth surface because of the uneven terrain. So hiking is another way to burn more calories walking. How about wearing a weighted vest too? If you do that, be prepared for a challenging workout!
Why not ramp up the intensity of your walk to a power walk? Here’s an interesting video showing you how to master the art of powerwalking:
We hope we’ve inspired you to get the most out of your walking routine. You won’t have to make walking harder every day. Stick to a moderate pace three days a week and ramp up the intensity two days a week to challenge your body more.
Don’t forget about the importance of strength training too. Walking is a good cardiovascular exercise but you need strength training to limit the loss of muscle and bone mass as you age. Fortunately, you can train your muscles at home using resistance bands. There’s no need to join a gym to stay fit. In fact, we think you’re more likely to stick with it if you can do it at home. So what’s stopping you?
One more tip. Try to add more walking activity into your every day activities. Look for opportunities to fit in a walk whether you’re at work or at home. Take a walk on your lunch hour or walk around the building during breaks. Research shows sitting too much is an independent risk factor for health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and premature mortality. Let’s get moving for our health!
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jan;33(1):142-7.
The Cooper Institute. “Nordic Walking Study”