Trying to launch yourself into a daily workout regimen but can’t seem to make one stick? Your best bet may be to start with the simplest activity of them all – walking. While it may seem too easy, walking actually boasts loads of health benefits and can play a key role in helping you reach your goal weight and stave off illness.
Health Benefits of Walking
The versatility of walking makes it a prime candidate for exercise no matter where you are – walking down your street, hiking up mountainous terrain, trekking around a foreign city, the options are endless. As for health benefits, walking has been shown to:
Support weight loss – a brisk walk at 4mph could burn between 150 and 230 calories in just 30 minutes depending on your own size and weight. If your weight loss journey has been sidelined by ineffective workouts, consider incorporating more walking into your day.
Build bone mass – resistance exercises that make your body work against the force of gravity, like lifting your legs when walking, are great for building bone density and strengthening the musculoskeletal system.
Reduce risk of disease – looking to prevent high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease? Then get your walk on! As a cardiovascular exercise, walking helps to strengthen the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, supporting strong heart, circulatory, and lung health.
Lower stress levels – from its calm, low-impact nature to the way it connects you to the outside world, walking outdoors has a powerful way of lowering stress levels and boosting mood. Research has also shown that walking in nature combats the inclination to ruminate on negative thoughts and feelings.
Improve coordination and balance – your head, arms, legs, and core are all engaged with a good walk, helping you hone balance and coordination skills that keep you upright and in shape no matter what environment you are traversing.
Promote good joint health – low-impact activities are a must for so many groups of people including those with mobility issues, arthritis, diabetes, and more. Walking doesn’t over-stress the joints and in fact, can help lubricate and loosen them up. Experts recommend wearing orthotic aids if you have had a joint injury before, for example, a supportive knee brace for walking can prevent the recurrence of knee injuries.
Compensates for prolonged sitting – recent research has linked prolonged sitting with not only increased risk for lifestyle diseases but for early death too. A 2016 study published in the journal The Lancet, however, found that one hour of exercise (like taking a brisk walk) could eliminate the detrimental effects of 8 hours of sitting.
Tips for Increasing the Challenge
When it comes to reaping even more benefits from walking, simply keep the 3 F’s in mind: further, faster, and more frequent.
Build up speed – a sauntering, leisurely pace is perfect when you’re moseying around the mall, but for implementing walking as a true exercise, you’ll want to build up speed to really feel the burn.
Change the terrain – while speeding up your walk on fairly flat terrain is great, walking over steeper and more challenging slopes is going to have your body working overtime, burning more calories and building even greater strength. Hiking over hills and mountains instead of treadmill walking, for example, ramps up the challenge.
Add weight – increase the resistance of your walk by carrying a day pack with extra weight in it (drop in a couple water bottles, dumbbells, etc.). Check with your doctor before wearing wrist or ankle weights, however, as they can overstress the joints and possibly increase the risk for injury.
Inject HIIT – take 30-second intervals during your walk for high-intensity interval training (HIIT). For example, you can sprint as fast as you can for 30 seconds then resume walking, stop a do squats for 30 seconds and then resume walking, and so forth.
The best way to transform a walking habit into a fitness routine is to prioritize it – keep these tips in mind:
Set goals – start with a small goal like walking 15 minutes each day during lunch. Work your way up gradually week by week to hit new goals whether it is faster speeds, longer bouts, or different terrains.
Track progress – use smartphone apps or wearable fitness trackers to monitor and record your progress, i.e. steps taken, calories burned, heart rate, etc.
Practice good form – embody strong technique to get the most out of walking. The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping your head up, face forward, and your back straight while your shoulders and neck are relaxed and your arms swing naturally at your sides.
Find more ways to walk – park further away from your office building or the grocery store, take the stairs instead of the elevator, participate in a charity walk-a-ton, and so forth.
Stretch and cool down – while walking is a warm-up in itself, when using it as an exercise it’s important to remember to stretch and cool down afterward.