Walk Your Way Fit

Walking is the ultimate bargain exercise, proving you don't need fancy equipment or pricey gyms to get fit. But you do need to mix it up. Here are three different walks to keep your heart healthy, your waistline trim, and your stress levels down.

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Walking works. You know it. Trouble is, you're not sure how to evolve your walking program beyond the same moderate-paced walk that's not getting you the results you want, especially if you're hoping to shed some pounds.

"After about six weeks of doing the same workout, your body adapts and no longer has to work as hard," says Amy Dixon, exercise physiologist and fitness trainer in Santa Monica, California, and creator of the Give Me 10 DVD. That explains why, even though your heart is happy, you might not be thrilled with the number on the scale--which seems to have gotten stuck.

The solution? Challenge yourself by changing your intensity and pace. "Change requires change, which is why you need to vary your walks," Dixon says.

We've put together three different types of walks, each of which offers a unique challenge to your body. Start with the endurance walk and then sprinkle the other two walks into your week. Over time, as your walking program continues to evolve, so, too, will your body, making you fitter leaner, and healthier.

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What it is: A moderately paced walk you can do for as long -- or as short a time -- as you want.

Why it's good for you: Endurance training builds a healthier body, and it's something almost everybody can do, even if you're just strolling through a mall. It can relieve stress and boost mood in as little as 10 minutes and also reduces risk factors for chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. "Without a solid base of endurance training, you won't be able to progress," Dixon says. Of course, if you're looking to shed pounds, more is better, so shoot for 30-60 minutes daily.

What research says about it: In a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that women who walked a half hour a day gained one pound less annually than women who didn't walk at all.

Who should do it: Everybody, no matter your age or fitness level.

How often you should do it: Daily, if you want.

How to do it: Start with a five-minute warm-up of easy walking. Then pick up the pace until your breathing becomes a little quicker. You should still be able to talk, but you're definitely working a little harder. Maintain this pace as long as you want. In the end, cool down with five minutes of easy walking.

What it is: A more challenging walk that alternate between hard and easy periods of work.

Why it's good for you: If time is your biggest enemy, interval training is perfect for you. "Incorporating intervals into your workout can shorten your total exercise time and get you fitter faster," says Jason Talanian, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

What research says about it: In one of Dixon's studies, women who did interval training improved overall health and their body's fat-burning potential in as little as two weeks. Not only do you burn calories during the workout, you also burn more just doing everyday things after an interval training walk, Dixon says.

Who should do it: Walkers who want to get in shape in less time or bust a plateau. Do two or three weeks of endurance first.

How often you should do it: Once or twice a week on nonconsecutive days.

How to do it: Warm up with an easy five-minute walk. Then alternate between one to four minutes of moderate-paced walking and one to four minutes of brisk or fast walking, repeating this pattern two to five times during your walk. During the brisk/fast walking sections it should feel as if you're working hard, and talking becomes more difficult.

What it is: A faster-paced walk than endurance walking

Why it's good for you: If you're short on time, this is another walk you can do in a snap. It's not only time-efficient, though. "By working a little harder during your walks, you'll burn more calories and fat," Dixson says. "Granted, it may feel someone uncomfortable, but ding this type of workout can make you a stronger, fitter walker."

Who should do it: Serious walkers who want to get fitter without devoting lots of time to exercise.

How often you should do it: Once or twice a week.

How to do it: Start with a five-minute warm up. Then pick up the pace so you're walking a little faster than you normally would yet not pushing it so hard that you can't maintain that pace. Continue at that pace for 10 to 20 minutes. (If this is too difficult at first, go fast for five minutes, then slow to a moderate pace for five minutes; gradually build to walking fast the entire walk.) Then cool down with an easy walk.

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