Whether you spend too much time on the couch or are constantly on the go, you can make big gains when you commit to a regular walking routine. According to the Mayo Clinic, brisk walks are a great way to build your strength and endurance, lift your mood, ward off disease, and control your weight. If you’re ready to take your health and fitness to the next level, consider these pointers for how to reap extra benefits from your walking workout.
Warm up, cool down and stretch
What you do before and after can be just as important as the walk itself. To protect yourself and get more out of your routine, start by walking slowly for at least 5 minutes so your muscles can warm up. Do the same thing at the end of your walk so your muscles can cool down. You may also want to work in some mild stretching — but to avoid muscle tears, wait until you’ve warmed up to do this.
Aim for progress
It’s easy to fall into the same routine day after day, but you’ll get more out of walking if you aim for progress. Instead of walking the same amount of time during each outing, try to gradually increase how long you’re active. You could also challenge yourself by gradually increasing the intensity of your walks and attempting to cover the same distance in a shorter amount of time.
Vary your pace
Varying your walking speed can be an effective way to maximize your walking session. Instead of maintaining a steady pace throughout your walk, try walking fast for a short period of time, slowing down to a normal pace for awhile, then speeding back up. CNN Health notes that these high-intensity intervals will get your heart pumping and can improve your aerobic fitness and overall health.
Add some stairs or hills
Varying the terrain that you’re walking on will add a challenging new dimension to your workout. If you live near any hills, try incorporating them into your routine. If not, find some stairs to climb. Even if all your walking routes are flat, try switching between surfaces. For example, the University of California at Berkeley points out that walking on grass, gravel or sand instead of a track is a good way to burn more calories.
Remember your muscles
As you walk, look for ways to exercise your muscles. Pumping your arms as you walk will give your upper body a workout. Focusing on proper posture and technique will help develop your core muscles. You can even incorporate squats and lunges into your walk to build lower-body strength.
As you work to build your strength and endurance, be sure to record where, how far and how fast you walk each time. Use whatever method works for you — some people prefer paper and pencil, while others use smartphone apps or pedometers. The act of keeping track is what’s important here. Doing this can be a source of good ideas for improving your workouts. It can also be incredibly encouraging to look back at your efforts and see how you’re making progress.
Walking is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to put yourself on the path to better health and fitness. With these tips, you’ll be prepared to turn leisurely strolls into invigorating workouts that strengthen both mind and body.