Switch the type of walking in your routine to stay motivated and active.
Putting one foot in front of the other is a simple way to trigger a cascade of health benefits. Regular brisk walks help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol; control blood sugar; and reduce the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Brisk walks also strengthen muscles, burn calories, and lift mood.
Just one problem: some people find walking boring. Boredom may diminish your motivation and interest in exercising. Before that happens, mix up your regimen with different types of walking that maximize physical, mental, and emotional health benefits.
While all brisk walking is good aerobic activity, you'll boost physical benefits even more if you incorporate other exercises in your regimen. Here are some options:
An interval-training walk. Adding brief bursts of speed during a brisk walk boosts cardio fitness. "You speed up, push your intensity, recover, and then pick up the pace again," says Harvard fitness consultant and certified fitness instructor Michele Stanten. She recommends timing yourself for 15, 30, or 60 seconds at the heightened intensity and then doubling that amount of time to recover at your normal pace. "If you need longer to recover, that's fine too. When you feel ready, pick up the intensity and go faster." If you don't want to time yourself, use landmarks: speed up as you walk past two houses, go slower for four houses, and repeat.
A strength-training walk. At least twice per week, take a resistance band on your walk. "Work your chest, arm, or shoulder muscles by stretching the band while holding it in front or above you, or loop it around your back and press it forward," Stanten advises.
Some activities make walking feel more like a sport. Consider the following:
Nordic walking. Using Nordic poles (which have a special glove-like attachment) adds upper-body exercise to a traditional walk, engaging twice the muscles and increasing calorie burning. You can walk on level surfaces or on varied terrain, and you can even do it (with a doctor's okay) if you have balance difficulty, since the poles help keep you stable.
Hiking. "Hiking with or without poles will you get out of the house so you can enjoy nature. If you use hiking poles, they'll help take pressure off the joints," Stanten notes.
The repetitive nature of walking makes it a natural activity for meditation or self-reflection. Try one of these:
A breath-focused walk. The combination of breathing and stepping creates a rhythm that helps quiet the mind. "Breathing and counting are key," Stanten says. "Match your footsteps to your inhalations and exhalations. Take four steps as you inhale, take four steps as you exhale. You can lengthen those counts as you relax."
A mindful walk. Use walking as an opportunity to become more mindful. "Really be present in your walk. Pay attention to what's going on around you, and feel the breeze and the sun on your body. Pay attention to what you're hearing — the birds chirping, the rustle of leaves," Stanten suggests.
Elevate your walk by pairing it with a free app to make your time more inspirational, educational, or exciting. Consider downloading one of these:
- Charity Miles (charitymiles.org). Raise money for numerous charities as you walk.
- The Walk: Fitness Tracker and Game (thewalkgame.com). Listen to a spy story that only reveals itself as you rack up the required miles.
- A free podcast app. Listen to interesting interviews while you walk, such as the Harvard Health Publishing podcast Living Better, Living Longer (/podcast-living-better-living-longer).
Note: Use just one earbud to listen to a podcast during a walk. Keep your other ear free for sounds in your environment that can alert you to hazards, such as approaching cars.
Think about walking as a time for social interaction. Some possibilities:
A chatty walk. Instead of sitting and talking to catch up with loved ones, chat during a walk in the morning, afternoon, or evening. The more you walk and talk, the more exercise you'll fit into your day.
A heart-to-heart walk. If you need to have a tough conversation with someone, walking can make it easier. "Walking relaxes your body, and you don't need to make eye contact with the other person when you're walking," Stanten says.
Note: Texting is a form of communication, but avoid texting during a walk; the distraction can lead to a fall or keep you from seeing oncoming traffic.
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