We all know exercise is important. Strength training, cardio, mobility, stretching – it's all essential to our well-being. And when we think cardio, we may think of things like, an hour on the treadmill or the elliptical … but so often we forget about walking! Now you may be thinking well sure I walk all the time … but walking as purposeful exercise is such a great and safe way to get your cardio in!
True story. After I had my baby girl, all I was allowed to do was walk for 6 weeks. During chemo, walking was my savior both mentally and physically. And after I had my double mastectomy and second reconstruction surgery, again all I could do was walk. At first, I was frustrated because – ugh just walk? But … what I didn’t realize was how great it made me feel, and how safe it was for my joints and recovery. I could get just as much of a high from walking as I did running, I could raise my heart rate and even break a sweat! It also allowed me to stay strong while I healed. Now, I take walks all the time. One of my favorite things to do is walk hills with my daughter in the stroller and dog strapped to my waist. Talk about a workout pushing a stroller uphill!
Just like any form of exercise walking has similar benefits:
Improved cardiovascular health
Improved mental health and mood
Helps maintain a healthy weight and body composition
Helps prevent or manage various conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Strengthens your bones and muscles
Improves muscle endurance
Strengthens your immune system
Helps manage stress
Will I still get strong? Absolutely! Have you ever gone for a walk and felt sore? Well, that’s because walking actually uses a lot of muscles! Check it out!
Now in order to walk as purposeful exercise it’s important to ensure you’re walking properly, safely, and effectively! Here are some techniques to make sure your walking form is safe and correct.
Stand tall. Our lifestyle isn’t always conducive to great posture. So it’s important that you maintain good posture as you walk, or your back and neck may suffer just to name a few. (so please stop looking at your phone and walking!) As you’re walking, extend your spine as if you were being lifted from the crown of your head. Keep the space between your lower ribs and your hip bones long (don’t slouch) and try to maintain that tall posture as you walk. Think as though you're balancing books on your head!
Keep your eyes up: Look ahead to where you’re going to ensure that your posture is aligned. If you look down you’re putting a lot of pressure on your upper back and neck.
Keep your shoulders back, down, and relaxed. Most of us hold stress in our shoulders and neck causing our shoulders to raise up to our ears! Try to maintain this “shoulders back, down and relaxed” posture as you walk to ensure you’re not putting strain on your neck. Keep your shoulders away from your ears to reduce tension in the upper body.
Let your arms swing: Let them swing freely from your shoulders, not your elbows and swing them like a pendulum. It should come pretty naturally as you walk. Try to keep your arms below your chest to avoid shoulder tension.
Maintain a neutral pelvis: Keep your abdominals engaged as you walk so you don’t strain your back.
Maintain a good stride: Heel strike as you walk and roll from heel to toe as you stride. Try not to step too big to avoid pressure on your joints which can also slow you down. Keep your stride smooth and quiet.
Make it a workout!
Okay so you’ve got your posture down, now how do we make walking more challenging?
Your body responds to intensity, so keep switching it up so you keep getting results! Here are some ideas on how to keep your intensity up while walking, and ways to switch it up so you keep getting the results you want.
Increase your speed: Pay attention to your exertion. Can you walk while having a conversation? Or are you gasping for air? Walking faster can help increase your exertion and make your walk more challenging. Play with your speeds and add some intervals if you don’t want to walk fast the whole time. Either way, your heart is challenged and you’re burning more energy.
Try some hills: Walking uphill is really challenging! As I mentioned earlier one of my favorite workouts is pushing my daughter in the stroller uphill (for Boston locals try Breakheart Reservation!) Add some hills to your route outside or increase your incline on the treadmill inside.
Add some weight: You can try a weighted vest or weighted wristbands to increase the intensity of your walk.
Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth: Keep a pace you can hold while you breathe through your nose. This challenges your nervous system but you’re also working harder to consume the same amount of oxygen that you would by breathing through your mouth. Thus more energy expenditure and a harder workout!
Walk on sand: Try this barefoot as it will not only work your body harder it will also strengthen your feet!
So the moral of the story: walking is GREAT for you and a fabulous workout anytime! You don't need any equipment and you can do it basically anywhere. Try these tips to ensure you get a good and safe workout while you walk and enjoy!