Of all the ways to get and stay fit, walking is the easiest, safest and cheapest. It can also be a lot of fun, with attainable goals. Here are some suggestions to help you get the most out of your walking workouts.
Try to walk briskly for at least half an hour every day, or for one hour four times a week. If you weigh 150 pounds, walking at 3.5 miles an hour on flat terrain burns about 300 calories per hour. So this schedule would burn about 1,100 calories a week. If you can’t work that into your schedule, try more frequent, shorter walks.
Get yourself a pedometer (available at drugstores and sporting goods stores) and then see how many steps you take a day. Aim for 3,000, and then try to work up to at least 5,000 steps. To achieve the higher goals, you’ll have to include some brisk exercise walking in addition to walking at home and at work.
Skip elevators and escalators and take the stairs instead. Leave the car at home if you can walk the mile or two to a friend’s house. Walk to work, or at least part of the way. If you want to go faster, instead of taking longer steps, take faster steps. Lengthening your stride can increase strain on your feet and legs.
Bend them at 90 degrees and pump from the shoulder. Move your arms in opposition to your legs—swing your right arm forward as you step forward with your left leg. Keep your wrists straight, your hands unclenched and your elbows close to your sides. The vigorous arm pumping allows for a quicker pace, and provides a good workout for your upper body.
Try something different. For example, speed up for a minute or two out of every five minutes. Or, alternate one fast mile with two slower miles. And vary your terrain as well. Walking on grass or gravel burns more calories than walking on a track. Walking on soft sand increases caloric expenditure by almost 50 percent.
Combine hill walking with your regular flat-terrain walking as a form of interval training. When walking uphill, lean forward slightly—it’s easier on your legs. Walking downhill can be harder on your body, especially the knees, and may cause muscle soreness. So, slow your pace, keep your knees slightly bent and take shorter steps.
To enhance your upper-body workout, use lightweight, rubber-tipped trekking poles, which are sold in many sporting-goods stores. This is like cross-country skiing without the skis. It works the muscles of your chest, arms and abs, while reducing knee stress. Find the right poles by testing them in the store before purchasing. You should be able to grip each pole and keep your forearm about level as you walk.
Hand weights can boost your caloric expenditure, but they may alter your arm swing and lead to muscle soreness or even injury. To start, use one-pound weights and increase the weight gradually. The weights shouldn’t ever add up to more than 10 percent of your body weight. Ankle weights are not recommended, as they increase your chance of injury.
This is demanding, since it’s a novel activity for most people. If you’re doing it outdoors, choose a smooth surface and keep far away from traffic, trees, potholes and other exercisers. A deserted track is ideal. Try to go with a partner who can keep you from bumping into something and help pace you. Skip this activity if you’re elderly or have balance problems.
You want to be comfortable while you walk. Shoes that are specially designed for walking have flexible soles and stiff heel counters to prevent side-to-side motion. But for normal terrain, almost any comfortable, cushioned, lightweight, low-heeled shoes will do just fine. It’s best to avoid stiff-soled shoes that don’t bend.