Walk to a Healthier, Slimmer You

Maximize this basic aerobic exercise for lasting results.

from Stealth Health

11. Periodically pick up the pace. Boredom can quickly bring a walk to a premature end. Keep your mind and your body engaged by periodically picking up the pace or challenging yourself by trudging up a hill. Every 10 to 15 minutes, complete a 2- to 3-minute surge. During your surge, try to catch a real or imaginary walker ahead of you.

12. Explore on your walks. You can walk anywhere at any time, from your neighborhood to your local mall to your downtown main street to a local trail. You can even walk laps around your office building! Rather than walking the same old tired route day in and day out, use your walks as a way to experience and explore the great outdoors. Varying your route and terrain will do more than keep you mentally engaged. It will also help you to target different leg muscles, improving the effectiveness of every outing. One day you might walk through a section of your neighborhood that allows you to marvel at your neighbors’ gardens or home improvement projects. Another day you might head to the local park. Still another day you might walk downtown.

13. Take your dog with you (or get a dog). Once your dog gets used to your walks, he or she will look forward to them and give you a gentle nudge (or annoying whine) on the days you try to get out of it. There’s nothing more effective than a set of puppy dog eyes to extract your butt from the couch and get it out the door. In addition to walking the neighborhood, consider signing up for a dog agility class. During the class, you and your dog will circumvent a course with seesaws, hurdles, tunnels, and other obstacles. (Your dog tackles the obstacles. You run or walk alongside and yell the appropriate command.) Both you and your dog will get a great workout and you’ll end up with a better-behaved and calmer dog as a result. Don’t have a dog? Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog twice a week. That commitment thing will keep you motivated.

14. Pump up the volume. In a study published in the journal Chest, people with severe respiratory disease who listened to music while walking covered four more miles during the eight-week study than a similar group that did not listen to music while walking. Researchers speculate that listening to music made the participants feel less hindered by shortness of breath and distracted them from possible boredom and fatigue. You don’t have to have lung disease to benefit from music during your walks. Bring along a headset and play your favorite tunes.

15. Sign up for a stroller walk. If you’re a new mom, you don’t need us to tell you how hard it is to fit in time for fitness — not to mention time for other basics like taking a shower. The good news is you can take your infant on your walk. A growing number of hospitals and fitness centers, including the YMCA, offer group stroller walks for new moms. Entire franchises, such as StrollerFit and Stroller Strides, have popped up in communities around the country. These franchises promote 50-minute to one-hour workouts that combine walking, stretching, and strength training with elastic tubing for stretches and resistance work.

16. When you feel like blowing off your walk, promise yourself you’ll do just 10 minutes. “Head out the door for a short walk. Chances are, once you’ve warmed up, you’ll exercise for longer than you anticipated,” says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., nutrition and fitness expert at the University of California at Davis and author of Bounce Your Body Beautiful. “Even if you don’t walk longer, 10 minutes is better than no minutes at all.”

17. Five times a day, climb up and down a flight of stairs for two minutes. You’ll garner the same heart-rate-enhancing results in those 10 minutes as you would get from 36 minutes of walking on a level surface.

18. Roll out of bed, get dressed, put on your shoes, and go. It’s easy to get caught up in your day-to-day activities and tell yourself that you don’t have time for a walk. If you exercise first thing in the morning, however, you have no excuse. Research shows that people who plan to exercise in the morning are more likely to fit in their workouts than people who plan to exercise later in the day. Exercising in the morning may offer a side benefit: You’ll sleep better at night. When researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, compared morning and evening exercise, people who exercised at least 225 minutes per week in the morning had an easier time falling asleep at night than those who completed the same amount of exercise in the evening.

19. Or, walk in the evening. That sleep study aside, we still like after-dinner walks. They get you away from the television, they keep you from eating too much at dinner, it’s when your neighbors are outside, and it’s just a lovely time of day. Don’t let unlovely weather stop you either — that’s what jackets, boots, and umbrellas were invented for. There’s something childlike and fun about a walk in the rain or snow.

20. Learn your m.p.h. That’s miles per hour, of course, just like a car. Knowing it isn’t that useful, but we’re a nation of statistics lovers, and if monitoring your speed helps keep you motivated, then more power to you. A leisurely pace is 2 miles per hour, a healthy, brisk pace is 3.5 miles per hour, and going over 4 miles per hour is downright fast. A pedometer will measure this for you, but if you don’t have one, you can simply count your steps during various 15-second periods. For a normal grown-up stride, if you walk 15 steps in 15 seconds, you’re walking at a leisurely pace of 2 miles per hour, At 23 steps, you’re walking a moderate pace of 3 miles per hour, and at 30 steps, you’re walking about 4 miles per hour.

21. Walk in the prettiest area in your town (or the next town over). It just might encourage you to walk more often. When researchers from the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, surveyed walkers about their walking habits, they found that men who perceived their neighborhoods to be “aesthetic” were more consistent about walking around their neighborhoods. Other research finds that neighborhoods with well-maintained sidewalks and safe and well-lit walking areas encourage walking over neighborhoods that don’t have those features. In fact, people who live in so-called walkable neighborhoods walk an average of 70 more minutes each week than people who live in neighborhoods lacking such characteristics, according to a study completed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

22. If you’re over 60, walk on soft surfaces. As you age, the fat padding in your feet deteriorates. The absence of this natural shock absorber can make walking on sidewalks and other hard surfaces feel like foot torture. Flat grass and dirt paths will provide more cushioning for your feet than roads or sidewalks.

23. Train for an event. It’s a great motivator. Check your local sporting goods stores for calendars or flyers on walks being held in your area. Generally, these fun runs and walks raise money for a good cause. For example, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society offers a Team in Training program that will get you in marathon walking shape. Yes, that’s right, lots of people walk an entire 26.2 miles in one shot. The society assigns you a coach and walking plan, and you raise money through donations.

24. Apply some lube. If you’re a long-distance walker or somewhat overweight, chafing clothes can make you want to call it quits. You can solve the problem by wearing skin-hugging clothing and lubing up your sensitive areas with Vaseline. The Vaseline acts like a barrier to protect your skin.

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