Feeling overwhelmed by all the cardio options or simply looking to try something new? Even something as seemingly simple as walking for exercise can be intimidating if you don't know where to start. Here's a little 411 on the benefits of walking, ways to increase the intensity, and some insider tips.
Calories burned per hour: 225 (20 minutes per mile) to 544 (12 minutes per mile)
Why it's good: If you've ever read an issue of Prevention magazine, you probably know that we love walking. We're hardly alone. In fact, there are an astounding 108.7 million fitness walkers in the United States, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, an industry group that keeps tabs on sports participation. It's also the exercise of choice among members of the National Weight Control Registry, a group made up of adults who have successfully lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for more than 5 years. Walking has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression, improve sleep, and increase insulin sensitivity as effectively as drugs (or even more so). And it's virtually injury proof. Research shows that racewalkers on average suffer just one injury in more than 6 years of walking (or half that often for injuries severe enough to require taking a break from walking). Logging just 75 minutes a week may cut your risk of developing arthritis symptoms by 28 percent, while twice that could halve your risk, thanks to increased circulation that helps keep joints lubricated. Can you tell why we're fans?
How to do it: Okay, I know, you probably learned how to walk when you were around a year old. But walking for exercise, which typically means you'll be going faster and farther than you may be used to, does come with a bit of an instruction manual. I had been writing about fitness for years (and walking successfully for a decade) when a meeting with Lee Scott, a walking coach in Toronto, delivered a true "a-ha!" moment I've reached back to ever since when "teaching" exercisers how to walk. We were walking in Central Park in New York City (naturally when you meet with a walking coach, you do it on foot) and Lee had me walk "normally," then try bending my elbows to 90 degrees while I did it. Hello, power walker! While I can explain until I'm blue in the face why bending your elbows as you swing your arms creates a shorter lever that moves faster (blah blah blah), there is no replacement for simply trying it. Not only do you instantly "feel" like a walker — stronger and more powerful — but you also truly can walk faster! In fact, I soon found myself bending my elbows when I was late to get somewhere and rushing. Here are a few more tips for walking with good form.
How to increase intensity: Speed is, or course, the most obvious choice, and following the tips above can help you to increase your pace. Alternating running and walking is another great way to play with intensity whether or not you have a goal of becoming a full-time runner. But don't forget hills. Simply head uphill to increase the effort during your intervals, and walk back down during recovery intervals.
Published March 6, 2012.
From Tone Every Inch: The Fastest Way to Sculpt Your Belly, Butt and Thighs by Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie with the editors of Prevention magazine. Copyright © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Rodale Inc.