Walking is the most convenient workout there is. You can do literally anywhere with no equipment and minimal risk of injury, perfect for people of all ages and fitness levels. But just because walking is an accessible exercise doesn’t automatically mean it’s easy. Walking can be a powerful workout with major health benefits—if you have the right techniques.
Increase your pace.
Walking strengthens the heart the same way that running does as long as you crank up the intensity a little bit. In fact, walking at a brisk pace reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and increases longevity, according to a 2018 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Walking slowly did not yield the same health benefits.
A brisk walk is defined by the American Heart Association as moderate physical activity. That means your heart beats faster, your breathing becomes heavier and you start to sweat but you can still carry on a conversation. The AHA recommends thirty minutes of moderate activity a day, 5 days a week.
Focus on your form.
The key to walking faster is good form. You want to step with a heel-toe motion, rolling through the foot to propel you forward. Keep your arms bent at ninety-degree angles and pump them straight forward and back, taking care not to cross over your body.
Focusing on your form trains the body to move more efficiently, but also keeps the mind present and centered. Walking mindfully can even be a form of meditation, improving mood and increasing mental clarity. With practice, we can train our minds to experience awe during exercise for maximum stress relief.
Work the hills.
Walking uphill is the best way to increase intensity while building strength and stamina. Either plan a route with several hills, or walk up and down one hill repeatedly, treating it like an interval workout. Hills are a great way to raise your heart rate and burn more calories (an extra 3 to 5 calories per minute) without risking injury.
Climbing hills also works different leg muscles, your quadriceps and glutes, more than walking on flat ground. To maintain proper form, lean forward slightly while going uphill. On the downhill, keep your knees bent gently and take shorter steps to minimize stress on the knee joints.
Try interval training.
Intervals involve alternating between bursts of high-intensity exercise and periods of recovery. For example, try walking as fast as you can for a minute or two and then slowing down to a moderate recovery pace for a couple minutes before repeating the cycle. If watching the clock isn’t your thing, find markers in your surroundings (trees, buildings, etc.) to determine when you will speed up and when you will recover.
Studies have shown that interval training is more enjoyable than other forms of aerobic exercise and builds strength more quickly too. Incorporating intervals into your walk requires setting goals for yourself, which keeps you engaged and pushing, rather than zoning out and easing up.
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