From burning calories to easing joint pain to strengthening your heart, the health benefits of walking are seemingly endless. According to the American Heart Association, just 20 minutes of walking each day can increase life expectancy. Walking not only has physical benefits, but it can also enhance your mood, help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and even improve your sleep. Whether you’re just getting started or have always been a walker, the health experts at Envolve, an integrated health care solutions company, have put together five ways to maximize your daily walks so you not only enjoy the fresh air, but reap as many health benefits as possible.
- Lead With Lunges. A steady, even-paced walking pattern will increase your heart rate and help you stay fit. But replacing a few of those steps with forward lunges is a great way to keep moving and maximize stretching your muscles. Start with a typical lunge by taking a wide step forward and dipping down until your thigh is parallel to the ground, then as you start to stand back upright, “walk” forward by lunging out with the other leg. Repeat this motion as many times as you like, then pick back up “regular” walking. Incorporating walking lunges will help strengthen leg muscles as well as your core, hips and glutes.
- Choose Hills. Switching up your routes can help keep your mind stimulated as well as provide a variety of other health benefits. Walking hills, or even a route with stairs, is a great way to increase muscle tone and burn additional calories. The strength needed to tackle hills requires your glutes, quadriceps and calves to work harder – helping you build muscle tone. The extra endurance increases your heart rate for an even more intense cardio workout helping you to burn more fat.
- Brave Backwards. Walking backwards has some hidden benefits. Several studies suggest that the increased concentration required when walking against your brain’s norm can boost your short-term memory and sharpen your thinking. Additionally, walking backwards requires a different muscle motion for your legs, increasing the range of the muscles you tone as you walk. Remember to be aware of your surroundings!
- Bring Weights. Carrying extra weight with you as you walk increases the intensity of your workout and in turn, the amount of calories you burn. Incorporate some arm reps or weight extensions by slowly lifting your arms in front of you or out to your sides until parallel with your shoulders to work in some muscle toning while you walk. If that requires too much coordination, simply carry the weights with you and close out your walk with some faster-pace reps before calling it quits. Don’t own a pair of hand weights? A backpack with books or canned food for additional weight as you walk will still provide increased muscle activation and calorie-burning results.
- Combine Motions. When you mix up the way you walk, your speed and the incline, and increase the amount of energy needed to switch between styles, this allows you to burn more calories and build endurance. Adding some variables to the mix can keep your walks interesting and even challenge coordination and stamina. Try incorporating some side steps, skipping, gallops, and even toe raises to work different muscles. Then, switch speeds going from mild to brisk to sprinting if able. Research shows that alternating between 30-second to one-minute bursts of faster walking increases calorie and fat-burning results.
Always consult a physician or health care provider before starting this or any other exercise program. The information provided is not intended to be medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. In the case of a medical emergency, contact your health care provider or call 911.