Introduction: The Surprising Benefits of Walking:
When it comes to exercise you might be surprised to learn how powerful walking can be. Walking not only increases your heart rate and cardiovascular fitness, it also improves your bone density and strength. This particular benefit is increased when you walk on uneven surfaces like trails or gravel paths.
Walking has mental and emotional benefits as well, and can help you reach your weight loss goals. Let’s take an in-depth look at how fantastic a walking program can be for you and what 10,000 steps a day really looks like.
Bone Density Improvements from Walking
Did you know that without exercise, after the age of 40 your bone mass decreases by about 5% a year regardless of gender or ethnicity? That bone loss leads to debilitating diseases like osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is “a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to fracture. Usually the bone loses density, which measures the amount of calcium and minerals in the bone.” (National Library of Medicine)
According to The Sport Journal, in the U.S., it has been estimated that by 2025 the number of hip fractures attributed to osteoporosis will double to nearly 2.6 million. And while women account for the majority of osteoporosis diagnosis and bone breaks, men account for 29% of the 2 million fractures that occur each year in the U.S.
It’s all pretty scary. You don’t want to break a hip or wrist, especially not when you’re older and your recovery time can take months, if not years. The good news is that if we go back to the very first sentence in this section, you’ll see that there’s hope.
Walking is a weight-bearing exercise. That means that you’re putting the weight of your body into each movement. Weight-bearing exercises actually slow down the bone density loss and delay or prevent osteoporosis. Now, you can’t replace bone density but you can stop or dramatically reduce bone loss, and a good walk each day is a great way to get started.
Additionally, if you walk on uneven surfaces and you keep your eyes looking forward (rather than constantly focused on the ground) you’ll improve your posture and your joint mobility and flexibility.
Walking for Weight Loss:
Walking burns several hundred calories per hour. For example, if you walk for an hour at a moderate four miles per hour pace and you weigh around 150 pounds, you’ll burn 350 calories. If you weigh more, you’ll burn more. Additionally, there are different types of walking that can increase the calorie burn. Walking also kicks up your metabolism so you continue to burn more calories after you’ve finished walking.
Additionally, The Diabetes Prevention Program showed that walking 150 minutes per week and losing just 7% of your body weight (12-15 pounds) can reduce your risk of developing Type II Diabetes by 58%. Since walking can help you lose that weight it’s a win/win for you. You lose weight and you prevent diabetes.
Don’t think you can walk for an hour a day? Consider breaking it up into smaller segments. You can take a 30 minute walk at lunch and three smaller 10 minute walks at other times. The benefits are the same.
How Does Walking Improve Mobility and Flexibility?
There are actually a few ways that walking helps improve your mobility and flexibility. When you walk you increase your heart rate, which pumps more blood and nutrients to your tissues. That helps your ligaments and joints stay healthy. Additionally, you work your muscles so they are more lose and better able to respond to the demands you put on them.
If you do a little stretching after your walk you’re helping take your mobility and flexibility to the next level. Why is mobility and flexibility important? It helps your posture stay tall. Many elderly people struggle with movements and mobility. Much of this is due to poor posture during their earlier years.
When you cannot move your body the way it is supposed to move, other areas of your body are forced to compensate. This leads to breakdown and ultimately it can lead to a shuffle walk and a hunched posture. Walk tall and stay mobile.
More Mental Energy and a Brighter Disposition:
According to research on depression, walking for 30 minutes at a time, three to five times per week for 12 weeks reduced symptoms of depression by 47%. It makes sense. When you walk outside you are exposed to the sunshine, which helps your body make vitamin D. Vitamin D has been connected to both physical and mental wellbeing. Exercise also causes your body to release endorphins, which generate a feeling of contentedness and a positive outlook.
Whether you struggle with depression or not, you can gain mental energy and a brighter mood from walking. It has also been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce cognitive decline later in life. You’ll strengthen your brain and keep it strong well into your golden years.
Better Sleep, Cancer Reduction, Improved Cardio Health and More
Walking has also been shown to improve sleep, which is connected to weight loss. People who get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis weigh less than those who don’t. Walking reduces your risk of deadly cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer too.
More Good News!
Most anyone can walk for fitness and health. There are no special requirements. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting from a place of good health or if you have health issues you’re dealing with, you can walk and move your body.
You may start slowly and you may not get far in the beginning, but step by step you’ll increase your fitness. You’ll be surprised what you’re capable of. In fact, you can put on a pair of comfortable shoes and go for a walk right now. Let’s take a look at how walking can help you improve your fitness and lose weight.
How Walking Can Help You Lose Weight and Get In Shape:
Walking elevates your heart rate. This happens when your muscles require more oxygen for energy. Each step you take burns calories. It also helps strengthen and tone your entire body. Your body will turn to your fat stores to create energy, and that’s when the health and fitness changes become visible. There’s nothing more exciting than dropping a clothing size, or two.
If you’re striving to lose weight then walking can be a great way to burn an additional 300 or more calories a day. If you think 300 calories isn’t much, realize that at that rate, with no additional changes to your lifestyle, you’ll lose a pound every ten days. Modify your diet and you can double or triple that number.
You can also burn more walking calories through a variety of tactics.
Increase your pace or the speed you’re walking and you’ll burn more calories. The general rule of thumb to calculate calories burned while walking is that you’ll burn around 100 calories per mile for a 180 pound person and around 65 calories per hour for a 120 pound person. However, if you just increase the pace a bit, the rate of calories burned per hour increases.
For example, the 120 pound person can burn 65 calories per mile at a three mile per hour pace but if they increase their effort to a four mile per hour pace they burn an additional five calories per hour. Crank it up to five miles per hour and that same person burns about 90 calories per hour. Swing your arms when you walk and you add a few calories per mile.
If you’re walking 10,000 steps a day, that averages to about five miles. That’s around 500 calories a day for the 120 pound person walking at a brisk five miles per hour pace and about 650 for the 180 pound person walking at the same fast pace.
So How Do You Know You’re Walking Fast Enough?
The best way to track your pace is to get a fitness tracking device. Sports watches and fitness devices can help identify your current pace using GPS technology. You can also track your effort with a little self-analysis. If you can speak a sentence while you’re walking but it takes effort to get the words out, it’s probably a good fitness pace.
If you can’t complete the sentence, you may be walking too fast. Don’t worry, your fitness will increase over time and you’ll eventually be able to walk quickly without getting out of breath. If you can complete the sentence easily, it’s time to pick up the pace.
Add Oomph to Your Walk:
Weights can be added to your walks to increase your calories burned and improve your fitness. There are many different types of weights to consider. For example, you might wear ankle weights to help strengthen your legs.
You could also walk with small dumbbells or wrist weights. There are weighted vests which can carry heavy loads. They’re useful when you’re training for an event or if you really want to take your fitness to the next level.
Music is another way to add oomph to your walk. When you’re walking to a fast beat, it’s easy to fall into pace with the song. Your steps may quickly coincide with the BPM or beats per minute. There are podcasts and fitness mixes that are created specifically for fitness walking.
For example, 120 to 135 BPM is equivalent to about four to five miles per hour. The distance you cover depends on your stride length as well as your foot turnover (how quickly you take your steps).
Get Off The Beaten Path:
The surface you walk on also makes a huge difference in the calories you burn and your fitness gains. For example, it’s much easier to walk downhill than to walk uphill, right? That’s because it takes more muscle power to move the same amount of weight against gravity. If you walk in a hilly area, you’ll burn more calories.
Additionally, when you walk on uneven surfaces you require your body to adapt to the changing surface. Each step requires a little more effort and energy from your body. Think about how different it feels to walk on sand versus walking on the sidewalk. Even a gravel path can make a huge difference in the calories you burn and the fitness benefits you gain.
How Long And How Far Do You Have To Walk To Lose Weight?
If you’re starting a walking for fitness program then this is the question that is at the forefront of your mind. You want to know how much, how fast, and how far you have to walk to shed those pounds.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Your results will depend heavily on your diet as well as your effort level. Weight loss isn’t quite as simple as calories in and calories out, but that’s a good place to start. What you eat does matter, but for now let’s focus on calorie reduction combined with a walking for fitness program.
Let’s say that a person weighs 180 pounds. They want to lose 30 pounds and get down to 150. Eating 1,800 calories a day is about enough to maintain health for a female, meaning your body burns 1,800 calories a day without any exercise.
If you add exercise to your day and take 10,000 steps, using the data that we’ve already provided, you know that you’ll burn about 500 calories walking at a moderate pace – remember the rule of thumb about 100 calories per mile for a 180 pound person. After seven days, that adds up to one pound or 3500 calories burned. Double your walking and/or reduce your calories a bit more and you’ll lose more weight.
Keep in mind that it’s unhealthy to drop your daily caloric intake by too much and it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before any calorie restriction measures are taken. It’s also a good idea to get a good bill of health before you start any fitness program. Another general rule of thumb to keep in mind is that one to three pounds of weight loss a week is considered healthy. More than that can introduce potential health risks.
Okay, so you have a few figures to work with and you’re likely calculating your weight loss and fitness goals. Let’s move forward and take a look at how to get started with a walking fitness program.
Getting Started with a Walking Fitness Plan
What are your goals? What do you want to achieve from your fitness walking program? There are many different types of goals to consider and they all begin by asking yourself a few questions:
• What is my primary goal?
• Do I want to lose weight?
• Do I want to improve my health?
• Do I want to improve my endurance or conditioning?
Also consider what your current fitness level is. For example, do you currently exercise 0 times per week, 1-2, 3-4, or 5 or more? Your present fitness level will impact your goals.
How much time to you have to devote to exercise? Will shorter, 15-20 minute spurts work best for your schedule, or do you have time for 30-45 minutes or 60 plus minute workouts?
You can also set goals for time, distance, speed, and intensity. For example, a time goal might be to walk for sixty minutes a day. You might strive to reach that goal by walking for fifteen minutes the first day and then adding a few minutes each day. Once you reach that goal, you can set new goals.
Another example of a goal might be to track your steps and strive to reach 10,000 steps per day. When you first put on that pedometer you may quickly realize that it’s a substantial goal. Consider tracking your steps without modifying your behavior for a week. Then, when you have a good daily average to work with, you can create a plan to achieve that 10,000 steps goal.
For example, perhaps you normally walk about 5,000 steps each day. You’ll need to add another 5,000 to reach your goal. You might add 250 steps each day by taking advantage of walking opportunities like parking a little farther away from the supermarket or taking a quick walk at lunch.
Take a few minutes to answer those questions. Start working through your priorities, opportunities, and any limitations you may have to manage. It’s also helpful to understand the different types of walking.
Types of Walking to Investigate and Consider:
Until this point we’ve been talking about one particular type of walking, generally known as “fitness walking.” It’s faster than your average stroll around the block. The purpose of fitness walking is to boost your heart rate, burn calories, and improve your overall health and fitness. The general speed for fitness walking is around four miles per hour.
You can perform fitness walking outside or inside on a treadmill or indoor track. You don’t need any special equipment other than good shoes. A pedometer or fitness tracker can be helpful as well.
Race Walking – Taking Fitness Walking to the Next Level:
Race walking kicks fitness walking up a notch. During this type of walking your pace increases quite a lot. You’ll walk between five and six miles per hour. Your form changes a bit as well. Your steps will be shorter and your posture will be straight to facilitate those short, rapid steps. You’ll also use your arms to propel you forward. Your arms will swing from the shoulders in a motion that matches your rapid footsteps. Each of your hips will also rotate slightly toward the arm that’s swinging.
If you’re competing in a race walking event then there are rules. The first and often most important is that one foot must always be in contact with the ground. This is to prevent you from transitioning into a jog. The other rule is that your knee must be kept straight from the moment the heel hits the ground until it passes under the hip. This is what gives race walkers their unique swagger.
It’s a great calorie burner burning about 600 calories an hour. It also gives your core and legs a great workout.
Nordic walking requires some equipment. Specifically, it requires ski poles. When you walk with the ski poles you use the poles to help propel you forward. The poles have a rubber tip at the bottom and hand straps near the handles. Your shoulders swing helping you burn more calories and improve upper body strength.
Nordic walking improves cardiovascular health and helps burn fat. It’s said to burn 40% more calories than basic day to day walking. Additionally, if you have balance or joint problems you may appreciate the aid of the poles.
Poles are only required if you are going to try a Nordic walking program. Consider heading to a sporting goods store and trying them out. It can take a little getting used to, however it can also be quite fun and a great way to get in shape.
Now that you know the different types of walking and you’re working on your walking for fitness goals, let’s take a quick look at the gear you may want or need.
Power Walking aka Speed Walking:
Power walking is like race walking, but without the rules on form. You also walk at an intense pace, about five to six miles per hour. You propel yourself forward by pushing off from the back foot. You can also add weights to a power walking workout to increase the intensity and the calorie burn. Power walking is often considered the quickest path to weight loss because it burns fat and more calories per mile.
Shopping Trips and Your New Fitness Walking Gear:
The good news is that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a walking for fitness program. The only real item that you need to invest in is a good pair of shoes. Walking shoes need to support your foot. Generally when people walk they strike the ground with their heel first.
Get up and walk around your home, take a few steps. Do you notice what part of your foot hits the ground first? Many walking shoes have both cushioning and support to help guide your foot into proper alignment when it hits the ground. Consider taking a pair of your current shoes to the store when you go shopping.
The sales consultant should be able to guide you to the right type of walking shoe by looking at the wear on the bottom of your shoe. For example, if the outside edge of your shoe is more worn than the inside edge then you may over-pronate, which means your foot strikes on the outside edge. The goal is to have a neutral foot strike because it’s easier on your muscles and joints.
Other walking gear to consider includes a fitness or GPS watch. These watches can also track your heart rate so you can make sure you’re walking fast enough to burn the calories you want but not so fast that you’ll tire out before your walk is over. If you like listening to music, then you may want an MP3 player.
If you’re walking outside then consider appropriate outdoor attire. You might want a wind breaker or wind pants to help you stay warm on windy days. Loose comfortable clothing is recommended. Reflective and light-colored clothing is also important.
If you’re considering walking inside, then you’ll need purchase a treadmill or join a gym. Treadmills with an incline feature will allow you to get some hill work in and a more intense walking workout. They also make sure that you walk even when the weather is bad.
Walking Alone or With Friends?
What type of exerciser are you and what are your walking goals? Are you more likely to follow through on your walking plans if you have a friend or do you prefer to walk on your own? There are benefits to both approaches and there is no single right or wrong way. Walking with someone helps you hold yourself accountable to your walking goals. However, if your walking goals are to go longer and faster than your partners, then you may be held back.
Conversely, walking alone allows you to set the pace and the distance. You don’t have to worry about keeping up with anyone or having to slow down to accommodate a friend. However, you do have to be motivated and accountable to yourself and be able to follow through.
Is your walking fitness plan coming together? Before we move forward with the last bit of information let’s stop and take a quick review:
• Have you established your walking goals? For example, your goal may be to walk 10,000 steps or more each day.
• Have you measured or evaluated your current fitness state?
• How much time do you have each day to walk?
• What’s your first step toward your fitness goal? How will you start your program and what steps do you need to take along the way to reach your goal? For example, if you currently walk around 3,000 steps a day then you may want to increase your walking by 1,000 steps more a week. How will you get the job done? Will you start taking walks in the morning before work? Will you get a treadmill? What’s your action plan?
• What gear do you need, if any, to get started?
• What type of walking will you begin with or try?
• Finally, how will you track your progress? That’s what we’re going to take a look at next.
Tracking Your Progress:
Keeping a record of your fitness walking goals, efforts, and results is important. In fact, other than actually following through on your walking plans it may be the most important step you can take.
Tracking your progress helps you in many ways. First, it helps you identify your goals and create a plan to achieve them. It holds you accountable to those goals. If you have plans to walk today and you don’t follow through, then a journal requires you to document your failure. It’s no fun to see a long list of failures, and that simple fact can help you get out the door to walk.
However, perhaps more importantly, a tracking system can help you identify why you’re struggling, which puts you in the driver’s seat. If you realize that for the past four days you haven’t walked then you can ask yourself why and then make changes that support your success.
Another way that tracking is motivating is because you’ll be able to see progress. If you record 5,000 steps every day last week and 6,000 steps every day this week then you know that 7,000 steps next week is possible. There are several different ways that you can approach tracking.
There is no right or wrong way. The best tracking system is the system that you find easy to use and the system that supports you to succeed.
Pedometers and Activity Trackers:
The world of pedometers has exploded as new technology has made them more accurate and more useful. Yes, you can find the traditional clip on your shoe pedometer. They work well and provide an accurate step count.
However, if you like more information you might consider some of the new wearable fitness devices like the FitBit. These devices clip onto your clothing or easily fit into a pocket or around your wrist. They track not only your steps but also your calories burned, as well as exercise intensity.
Many devices also provide an online service that allows you to enter the foods you eat so you can record caloric intake as well. And if you struggle with insomnia then you might enjoy the sleep monitoring feature found on some devices.
The primary benefit of a tracking device is that it’s super easy to use. There’s little you have to do other than wear the device and occasionally sync it with your computer. You’ll want to review the information so that you can see whether you’re meeting your goals, but the onscreen display can tell you how far you are from your daily goals as well. The downside is that some of the more advanced devices can be expensive and some require monthly memberships to use their online features.
If you don’t like the idea of wearing a device, you may find that a journaling habit may be more to your liking. The benefit of journaling is that you can enter more information than basic data.
For example, if you don’t meet your goal on a particular day you can add notes to your journal about why you didn’t meet that goal. This facilitates problem solving and helps you create an individualized walking program that truly supports you and your needs.
The downside is that it requires a bit more effort from you. You do have to follow through and enter your data every single day. There are a few different journaling approaches. You can pull out a spiral notebook and a pen and simply track your data every day. You can also create a spreadsheet on your computer. This is an organized way to see all of your data at a glance and if you’re on your computer throughout the day, it can be an easy process.
If you have a smartphone and like to use applications then you might consider one of the many sports journaling apps. They often come with a free online membership as well. For example, FitDay (http://www.fitday.com/) has a free online journaling program and an application for the iOS devices.
The final step in your walking for fitness plan is to identify a system to track your goals and your daily efforts. It’s the surest way to find success and achieve your goals. Before we wrap up, let’s take a look at a few sample walking for fitness plans to help you create your own individualized program.
Sample Walking For Fitness Plan:
Speed and Pace Goals:
Walk at your normal pace for three minutes, then increase the speed for one minute, then
back to your normal speed for another three minutes.
Repeat this 1:3 interval cycling for your entire workout.
Over time, increase the work and decrease the active rest.
You’ll want to identify a target speed for your intervals and you’ll need to identify a timeframe for your workout. For example, you might walk for 30 minutes a day with this plan. You’ll gradually increase the speed you’re walking so that over time you’ll cover more distance during your 30 minute workout. This type of plan works for any of the different types of walking discussed.
Time and Distance Goals:
Walk for a predetermined time or distance on day one through day three. For example, walk for 20 minutes or one mile.
On the fourth day, add time or distance to your walk. For example, you might walk for 25 minutes or a mile and a quarter.
Gradually increase the time or distance you walk, keeping your pace consistent from day to day. You don’t want to slow down, which means you may need to take small steps toward your end goal.
Identify the average steps you take each day. Track your steps for three to five days to determine your average.
Increase your steps in even increments with the ultimate goal to reach 10,000 steps.
Maintain that 10,000 steps a day goal for a month. Then consider adding more walking to your day. You might increase it to 11,000 steps a day for example.