Walking for fitness

What with all the marathons, climbing, HIIT classes and CrossFit, it’s easy to forget about the humble act of walking as a way to keep fit, it’s just one of those things we always just do. We walk to work, we walk home from the tube station, we have a nice walk after Sunday dinner. And fine, a two minute wander to Budgens to buy milk isn’t going to burn of a great deal of calories, but start upping your mileage and make a few changes and walking could be the key to making yourself fitter and healthier.

So to help you out in your new walking regime, Nicky Lawson, a personal trainer for the fitness tracker Fitbug, explains how to take your walking to the next level.

1. Get your posture right

First things first, your posture when you walk is key. Keeping your head straight and neck stretched allows your shoulders and arms to move freely as they should, removing strain on your spine. Also, slumping your hips puts more pressure on your hip joint. Instead, by lifting your hips when you walk (squeeze your pelvis towards your navel), your core and glutes will be brought into play, giving them a workout too. Not only will a good posture help you to burn more calories and tone your muscles, but it will also prevent aches and pains during your walks. See our walking infographic below for more pointers on posture.

2. Pump your arms
It may sound unbelievable, but by simply pumping your arms as you walk, you could burn extra calories than by not doing it. Bend your elbows at about a 90° angle and swing from the shoulders like a pendulum to burn more calories. Make sure you keep your shoulders relaxed to avoid increasing tension in the neck and shoulder area.

3. Rhythm and speed
You may have heard of the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) methods that pack the same levels of fat burning into a short period that running for an hour would do. The same technique can also be applied when walking. This type of training increases the calories burnt both during the activity but more importantly you continue to burn additional calories even after you have finished. This is called the EPOC (also known as ‘afterburn’) effect. Repeated short, sharp bursts of brisk walking followed by a few minutes at a moderate pace will create a walking circuit that will have you breaking out into a sweat.

4. Set yourself a goal
By setting sharp, clearly defined targets, you will have something to aim for with your walking. It will give you something to advance towards, with your long-term vision and short-term gains that you’ll see on a day-to-day basis acting as motivation. You can maximise this by tracking your progress using a wearable device, such as a Fitbug, or a free activity-tracking app like Moves. This way you’ll be able to see and measure your progress on a screen, as well as in the mirror. But, remember to set realistic goals – an unrealistic one can set you up to feel like you have failed.

5. Incorporate hills or a steeper incline
Going up an incline, whether out and about or on a treadmill, will burn significantly more calories than walking just on the flat. If in the gym, set the machine at a 1% incline, and increase this level depending on your ability. It’s also kinder to your knees. Outdoors, climb a steep hill or climb the stairs at every opportunity to feel the burn.

6. Add weights to your walk
Although you may have seen weights that you can clip to your ankle, these can cause joint strain if used incorrectly. Instead, consider wearing a weighted vest – the core of your body will be able to handle the additional load better than your ankles. The benefits of walking with additional weights include burning more calories than if you weren’t using them, whilst also building muscle simultaneously.

7. Turn up the tempo
An upbeat tempo can have a positive effect on the pace of your walk. While individual preferences exist, the majority of people seem to benefit most from upbeat tunes while they’re exercising. In a study conducted at John Moores University, researchers found that volunteers riding a stationary bike pedalled faster and for longer when the tempo of the music they were listening to was subtly increased by 10 percent. The volunteers also reported enjoying the music more.

8.Walk with a friend
Research from the University of East Anglia has found that walking outdoors in a group could help reduce the risk of a stroke of depression, as well as leading to a healthier lifestyle. The meta-study found that those who regularly walk in groups have lower blood pressure, resting heart rates and total cholesterol, with the researchers believing that, as well as motivating you to do it all – if it’s just you, it’s easy not to bother – doing it in a group also brings a shared experience of wellness and a positive attitude towards physical activity

For more information about health and fitness from Vitality, head on over to the website here.

This post was originally featured on the Vitality Website.

Picture credits: Pond5, Vitality