Walking is a fantastic and diverse form of physical activity. It's an easy, accessible and enjoyable way to lose weight, get fit, reduce stress and boost your energy levels. It can be done almost anywhere, anytime, by anyone and—best of all—it's free. But it can have some shortcomings if you want to achieve serious weight loss or cardiovascular fitness. These shortcomings were highlighted in a recent study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA. It showed that 94 per cent of people who exercise mainly by walking do not walk frequently enough or fast enough to gain real health benefits.
Following are 10 important strategies to help you get the maximum benefits from your walking workouts.
1 - WALK OFTEN
How often you should walk depends on your level of fitness and the duration of your walks.
FOR BEGINNERS: Aim for four to seven days a week. You need one to two months of regular walking to build a foundation of strength and fitness.
After that, see below.
FOR WEIGHT LOSS: Walking is a low impact, low intensity exercise, so you need to do it regularly to get results. Do your best to exercise every day, or at least every other day. Avoid missing walking two days in a row.
FOR ADVANCED WALKERS: Aim for three to five walks a week. If you can walk fast for 60 minutes, you should incorporate different activities into your program that challenge you.
2 - WALK FAST
Speed matters. People who maintain a faster pace while walking will burn more kilojoules and get better results. After a few weeks of regular walking, a leisurely stroll just won't cut it.
If you can't hear your breath while you walk, you're not walking fast enough. For beginners and those hoping to lose weight, walk like you're five minutes late or at a speed where you can hear yourself puff. Really gasping for breath should be left to the advanced walkers, who would benefit from regular bursts of very fast walking or running to get breathless. But giving a specific speed as a guide can be inaccurate, because it is harder for shorter people to walk at the same speed as taller people.
3 - WALK LONG
Any exercise is better than none, but unless you are a beginner you will need to walk for more than 10 minutes a day if you want life-changing, body shape-changing results. It's also important to consider how often and how fast you walk when determining how long you should walk for. One good way to work out the ideal duration is from a seven-day perspective, where you can vary your duration based on your frequency. Every seven days, try to accumulate about four hours of walking. For example: 4 x 60-minute walks per week; 5 x 50-minute walks per week; 6 x 40-minute walks per week; or 7 x 35-minute walks per week.
4 - INCLUDE INTERVALS (don't slow down on the hills)
Many people walk at the same, steady pace, day after day, walk after walk. I even see people avoid hills on their walks or slow to a crawling pace.
But they are denying themselves the many benefits of interval training. Little random bursts of effort at different intensities really boosts the kilojouleburning, fat-burning and fitness increasing benefits of walking. For this reason, hills are a walker's best friend.
They help you increase the intensity of your walks without having to go fast or rely on running. Actively seek out hills and power up them. Think positively about hills, and view them as a shortcut to getting results. Another great way to add intensity without impact is to use flights of stairs, especially if you live in an area without any hills.
5 - SWING YOUR ARMS
Most people swing their arms but it's the more pronounced, purposeful swinging that helps burn those extra kilojoules. Swinging your arms energetically can help you to burn up to 10 per cent more kilojoules while you walk.
Swinging your arms a little faster will also encourage your legs to come along for the ride, and is a good way to increase your pace. Keep your elbows bent to a 90 o angle, keeping your shoulders down and relaxed. Just don't exaggerate your swing too much, or raise your arms too high, as it won't propel you any faster and can stress your shoulders.
6 - ADD VARIETY
There's no doubt that variety is the spice of life, and the same rule applies to walking. If you stick to the same routine all the time, it's only natural that you will get bored and find it harder to motivate yourself. Try to vary the location, time of day, intensity and duration of your walks to maintain interest. Look for ways to add variety to your walking routine.
7 - MEASURE YOUR PROGRESS
As your walking improves, your legs will be stronger, you may weigh a little less and your lungs will breathe a little easier. The fitter you get, the more efficient your body gets at moving you around. This also means you will burn less kilojoules. Unless you continue to progress and up the duration, intensity or frequency of your walks, your results will grind to a halt. Keep a record of any information you can, such as the distance your cover, your personal best time over a given course, the intensity of your walks, the total duration of your walks or the total steps taken each day. Having times to beat or distances to cover also adds to your motivation.
8 - EAT AND DRINK WELL
Whether you are concerned about weight control, fuelling your walking program or just maximising your health and vitality, what you eat and drink will have a massive impact on your results.
Exercise is only half the picture.
Don't just focus on walking, because if your diet is not up to scratch, you will struggle to enjoy the benefits walking has to offer. If you are going to invest the time and effort in an exercise program to burn off kilojoules, don't just add excess kilojoules straight back into your body. Fuel your walks with wholesome food that gives you energy and actually helps burn fat. At the same time, cut back on high-kilojoule, lownutrient foods and drinks that clog your fat cells.
9 - WALK BEFORE BREAKFAST
If you are hungry, your body is craving food, because its stored blood sugar levels are running low. If you go for a walk in the morning before breakfast, your blood sugars are low and you are more likely to use stored fat as fuel. You don't necessarily burn more kilojoules, but you burn off a higher proportion of fat as fuel than someone who walks after breakfast.
The difference isn't massive, but if mobilising and burning off stored fat is your goal—it all helps. Research shows that in a fasted state, up to 50 per cent more fat is used during cardiovascular exercise compared to people doing an identical amount of exercise in a fed state.
10 - GET STRONGER
As you get older, you naturally lose muscle tissue, which reduces your strength and energy levels, which results in middle-aged spread. Lifting weights can reverse this process—walking can't. Walking is a wonderful exercise, but it does very little to strengthen your upper body or your abdominal core.
Lifting weights helps to protect muscle tissue when you reduce your kilojoule intake, boosting your metabolic rate and helping with weight and fat loss. The weight you lift can be your own body weight, dumbbells, barbells, pin-loaded weight machines, or resistance in the form of rubber tubes, hydraulic machines or even water. Adding weights to walking is a great addition to any walker's health and fitness routine.