If you’re looking to discover a fountain of youth, it may be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. Recent research published in the Journal of Epidemiology showed that taking a 30-minute walk five days a week can help you live longer. The benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise have long been hailed and include everything from lowering your risk of common illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes to improving bone health and overall physical function. Of course, the potential to lose weight and keep it off is also a big motivator when it comes to walking.
If those last two top your list of motivations to get out and pound the pavement, why not make a couple of small tweaks to your routine to boost the calorie-burning potential of your walks? While you don’t need to employ these strategies every day of the week, if you pick 2–3 days to change things up, you may find you’ve torched hundreds of extra calories by the time you reach the weekend. Start out by trying one of these tweaks to mix up your approach in the coming weeks and keep things interesting.
1. Vary your speed.
A 2015 study found that varying your speed while walking can significantly increase energy cost and thereby the number of calories you burn. To do this, pay attention to your speed while you walk. Start out at a slower pace and, as you get warmed up, pick it up to a more moderate effort. Then throw in some shorter segments of faster walking, maybe for a single block or from one light pole to another, before taking it back down to a more moderate pace. Think about maintaining good posture and using your arms as you increase your speed. In a 30-minute walk, aim for 3–5 of these brief bouts of faster walking.
2. Carry hand weights.
The American Council on Exercise estimates that carrying 1- to 3-pound hand weights can increase your heart rate by around 5–10 beats per minute, along with increasing oxygen consumption and caloric expenditure by 5–15%. A pair of inexpensive dumbbells will do the trick. Simply carry one in each hand as you walk, pumping your arms. The arm movement doesn’t need to be so exaggerated that you look like you just stepped out of a 1980s aerobics video, but rather it should involve a more natural approach. As your left knee drives forward with each step, so should your right arm. Similarly, as your right knee drives forward, engage your left arm.
3. Head for the hills.
It will come as no surprise that walking uphill takes more energy than walking on a flat surface or downhill. This doesn’t mean you should set a treadmill to an incline for your entire walk or head straight up a mountain path, however. With the same strategy in mind as varying your speed, throwing in some hills forces your body to adapt and shift from one effort level to another. Choosing a hilly route, whether it be on a road, trail or treadmill, will keep your body guessing as you navigate different gradients. This will lead to a greater number of calories burned than would be the case on a flatter route.
4. Use your arms.
A number of studies have proved the benefits of Nordic walking over conventional walking. In fact, research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found a 67% increase in energy expenditure when comparing Nordic walking to regular walking. Nordic walking doesn’t involve any special skills, just a pair of walking poles. By walking with poles, you better engage the upper body, turning an ordinary walk into a total-body workout. While you can get adjustable poles specifically designed for Nordic walking, you can also use an old pair of ski poles. To choose the correct length, check out Nordic Walking USA’s guidelines.