Walking for Health, Fitness and Weight Loss

Walking is free, can be done anywhere and anytime and can be a highly effective form of exercise when it comes to building fitness and reaching or maintaining a healthy weight. It’s especially great for anyone who feels more formal exercise settings aren’t for them or maybe wants to build up a bit of fitness or confidence before trying anything more. Whether you’re already walking regularly or just looking to start, this blog aims to cover some top tips you need to know to get the most out of this unbeatable form of exercise.

Walking is a great form of cardiovascular exercise and can help to build lower body muscles, however in order to build fitness and lose weight it’s important to make sure you’re walking often enough, far enough and at the right intensity. It’s also crucial to remember that calorie intake must be considered in order for any exercise programme to be effective for weight maintenance or loss.

When it comes to how much exercise we should be doing, guidelines suggest a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five times a week (150 minutes per week). This is a guideline for the general population and can help with cardiovascular fitness and healthy weight maintenance. It can also be split up into shorter blocks, such as 2 x 15 minute walks or 3x 10 minutes of exercise to make up your 30 minutes. Those looking to lose weight may need to do more, with the American College of Sports Medicine suggesting 200 to 300 minutes (3.3-5 hours) per week for this population. This would mean a 1 hour walk 4-5 times per week or equivalent. Whilst the amount of time spent walking is important, there are several other factors to consider in order to get the most out of your walking workouts.

Walking can be done alone or in a group
  1. Intensity is Important

Alongside the above guideline of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, it’s stated that this could also be done in the form of 75  minutes of vigorous intensity exercise (or a combination of these). Essentially, the more intense an exercise is, the less of it you need to do to get the same effects and benefits. Whether a particular workout is low, moderate or high intensity varies between individuals. You can measure intensity using a sports watch or other heart rate monitor or even just using your Rate of Perceived Exertion. If you need further advice on monitoring exercise intensity, chat to a fitness professional for individualised advice. One way to increase the intensity of a walking workout is to increase the speed, either for the full duration of the walk or for timed intervals. If you don’t have equipment available to time your intervals, or if you simply want to enjoy your walk without constantly looking at a timer – try distance intervals such as speed-walking or even jogging between trees/lamp posts or for the length of a street. Start with shorter speed intervals and longer rest/ lower intensity periods and gradually increase over time to ensure progression.

2. Resistance Rules

Adding resistance into a walking workout Is another way of increasing intensity, and in particular will help to build strength and stamina in the lower body muscles. This can be achieved by incorporating more hills or stairs into your route, or by increasing the load you are carrying by adding equipment such as wrist an/or ankle weights, or carrying a rucksack containing items such as a bottle of water or other weighted items. Again, progression can be achieved over time by increasing the weight carried or the distance or incline covered on hills.

Hill walking is a great way to increase intensity and challenge the lower body muscles

3. Work it into a Circuit

Walking can be an excellent cardiovascular element to circuit training and can be combined with higher intensity cardiovascular exercises such as star jumps  or resistance work such as step ups, squats, lunges, tricep dips, press ups (wall or floor) and sit ups. All of these exercises can be performed outdoors with no equipment other than naturally occurring features such as park benches, kerb stones and steps. Try finding a local park that you can walk laps around and stop periodically to perform body weight exercises either counting reps or for a set duration such as 30 seconds. You can increase time or reps and/or add more weight in as discussed in point 2 if/when appropriate.

Whilst these guidelines and recommendations can help you to get the most out of your walking programme, the most important factors with any exercise plan are consistency and gradual progression. If you currently walk sporadically or not at all, your first step is to consistently do a little more than you are doing now. When you’re sticking to this and it feels manageable, you can increase the frequency, duration and/or intensity of walks over time to hit the recommended guidelines and any personal goals you may have.

If you have any questions about anything included in this blog. Contact Mike at Hamers360fitness or me via Instagram (below).

Bev Meakin – Exercise Referral Officer/ Personal Trainer and Complementary Therapist. Instagram @bevs_life.