It’s more popular than ever, but still an underrated way to work out. Here’s how to stroll your way to better health and fitness.
Many people turned to walking over the past two years, probably just as an excuse for some fresh air and a chance to get out of the house. But a lot of us have stuck with it because it’s good for us, and it feels great. “The reasons behind walking being so beneficial are endless, both physically and mentally, but, personally, I believe it’s so good for us because it’s sustainable,” says Jamie Bell, owner of YOGAthletix, a fitness and yoga studio in Toronto. “Walking can be something that’s done day after day for a lifetime, as long as we take good care of our bodies.” If you’re in the 10,000-steps-a-day club, you may already know that a consistent walking routine can reduce your risk of heart disease, help you manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It can improve your balance, reduce joint pain and create stronger bones. Walking also combats anxiety and depression—and boosts your mood, too.
While it’s perfectly fine to keep your strolls low-key (you’ll still benefit mentally and physically from a moderate pace) you can also opt to turn your walks into higher-intensity exercise. If you’re ready to take walking to the next level, here are five ways to help you hit your stride.
1. FOCUS ON YOUR FORM
Runners and walkers alike regularly debate the best foot placement and movement patterns for a reason. Fixing your walking form can make longer, faster walks more comfortable and reduce your risk of injuries. “Two concepts are most important to consider when discussing walking form: foot strike and stride length,” says Andrew Farenech, a senior trainer with the Canadian virtual fitness platform WRKOUT. “Your foot should strike the ground with your heel, roll through the foot until the toe, and push off with the toe,” he says. Stride length refers to the distance you cover with each step. For ideal form, focus your eyes three to six metres ahead, keep your shoulders relaxed, bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle and close your hands lightly (without clenching your fists).
2. ADD SOME WRIST WEIGHTS
Those trendy weighted bangles look cute and can help to take your walk to the next level. If you’re ready to add some resistance, opt for a style that straps around your ankles or wrists, so your hands remain free, and stick to a light set of half- or one-kilogram weights. “Make sure the additional weight is not throwing off your balance or changing your walking pattern,” says Bell. “If you’re carrying more than a couple of pounds, keep the weight close to your body to maintain good posture that’s centred over your base of support.” Pausing to incorporate body-weight movements like squats, planks and bridges will also help increase the strength benefit of your walk.
3. PICK UP THE PACE
A recent study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity confirms that cadence is key. A pace of between 100 and 130 steps per minute is ideal for most adults to achieve a sweat-inducing brisk walk that will challenge the heart and lungs. Wondering if you’re working hard enough? Check your heart rate zone on your wearable or go by the talk test: If you can take a call and converse comfortably with some breathlessness on longer sentences, you’ve probably hit a moderate-to-brisk pace.
4. WORK DURING A WALKING WORKOUT
There are plenty of ways to sneak a walking workout into your workday. You can listen to a business presentation, think through a new project, or even listen to a work-related audiobook while you lap the block. You may even be able to handle a few brief business calls while you stroll. “Walking meetings give you a chance to stretch and move around during the day, while you collect your ideas and thoughts to make you even more efficient at work,” says Farenech.
5. BOOKEND A TRIP TO THE GYM WITH WALKS
Walking is an excellent warm-up and cool-down for pretty much any workout. Bell encourages her clients to walk to her studio for their yoga or fitness class. “A brisk pre-workout prepares both the body and mind for the workout to come,” she says. “Also, since walking is a mood booster, it will set you up for success in the studio or gym by allowing you to go into your workout feeling great.” While it’s perfectly fine to keep your strolls low-key (you’ll still benefit mentally and physically from a moderate pace) you can also opt to turn your walks into higher-intensity exercise. If you’re ready to take walking to the next level, here are five ways to help you hit your stride.