How to Get a Cardio Workout by Walking

Can you really get fit by walking? Absolutely — as long as you walk long enough, hard enough, and often enough. Sure, walking burns fewer calories per minute than jogging, but most people last longer on a walk than a run, so you can make up for the deficit. Plus, compared to runners, walkers enjoy a relatively low injury rate. A recent study found that, among people who are successful in maintaining long-term weight loss, nearly 80 percent walk as their main physical activity.

Walking the right way

The biggest mistake walkers make is bending forward, a sure way to develop problems in your lower back, neck, and hips. Your posture should be naturally tall. Relax your shoulders, widen your chest, and pull your abdominals gently inward. Keep your head and chin up and focus straight ahead.

Meanwhile, keep your hands relaxed and cupped gently, and swing your arms so that they brush past your body. On the upswing, your hand should be level with your breast bone; on the downswing, your hand should brush against your hip. Keep your hips loose and relaxed. Your feet should land firmly, heel first. Roll through your heel to your arch, then to the ball of your foot, and then to your toes. Push off from your toes and the ball of your foot.

Run through a mental head-to-toe checklist every so often to see how you’re doing. To find out more about fitness walking, read Fitness Walking For Dummies (published by Wiley).

Walking tips for rookies

Although walking is the most basic of all fitness activities, novice fitness walkers can still benefit from the following pointers:

  • Increase your workout time gradually. Most people can start off with five 10- to 20-minute walking sessions a week; after about a month, they can increase each workout by 2 or 3 minutes per week until walking 30 to 45 minutes is comfortable. (Five days a week may sound like a lot, but an almost-daily walk makes it easier to get in the habit.)

  • Walk as fast as you comfortably can. If you walk very fast — at a 12-minute-mile to 15-minute-mile pace — you can burn twice as many calories as when you walk at a 20-minute-mile pace. You may not be able to move at such supersonic speeds in the beginning, but as you get fit, you can mix in some fast-paced intervals.

  • If you’re walking on the shoulder of a road, walk against traffic so you can watch cars approach. On sidewalks or trails, walk any old way you want.

  • Add some hills. Walking over hilly terrain shapes your butt and thighs and burns extra calories (about 30 percent more calories than walking on flat terrain, depending, of course, on the grade of the hills).

  • Sneak in a walk whenever you can. Leave your car at home and hoof it to the train station. Take a 15-minute walk during your lunch break. Traverse the airport on foot rather than on that automatic walking belt. It all adds up.

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