8 Ways to Shake Up Your Walking Routine
By Beth Ann Mayer
Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
Just like eating the same thing every day can get stale, so can doing one type of exercise. A few small tweaks can make a world of difference.
Regular walkers, or those avoiding the monotony of daily strolls altogether, can put a spring back in their step with some simple changes.
How to Rock Your Walk
Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.
"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."
Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.
Use Hand Weights
Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.
A 2019 study found that weight training is good for your heart, and research shows it reduces the risk of developing a metabolic disorder by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.
"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.
Make It a Circuit
As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.
Rue recommends avoiding ankle weights during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the Harvard Health Letter.
Find a Fitness Trail
Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by simply using your body.
Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.
Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to find one.
Recruit a Friend
People who workout together stay healthy together.
One study showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.
Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like Strava have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.
According to the 2017 National Health Interview Survey, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.
"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.
You can also play a podcast or download an app like Headspace that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.
Do Fartlek Walks
Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.
One study showed that 10-minute interval training improved cardiometabolic health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.
Research also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle oxidative capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.
Gradually Increase Pace
Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.
"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."
You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to decrease the risk of mortality and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.
If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?
Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to measure your heart rate using a monitor.
"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is typically calculated by 220 beats per minute minus your age.
You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.
"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."
By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.
Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.
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