Walking for health is about more than just lacing up your comfy footwear and strolling around without a care in the world. In fact, I love walking because sometimes I can stroll around without a care in the world but I wouldn’t get all of the health benefits if that was all I did. While you can build muscles and increase movement by walking casually, increasing your efforts and raising your heart rate is what really delivers the best results. Today’s article is all about sharing my healthy walking tips to get the most out of your walking for health routine.
Each of the tips I cover in this article has helped me reap the physical and mental health benefits of walking with very little to no added difficulty. To avoid confusion, when I say difficulty I am referring to the logistics of implementing the tips. I will refer to effort when I am talking about increasing the intensity of the workout. Although my aim is to be economical with effort, there is no getting around the fact increased reward requires increased effort.
Target Your Walking Heart Rate
A short while ago I wrote a whole post on the benefits of raising your walking heart rate so I will keep this bit brief. Whether you are starting out or you are a seasoned pro, targeting your walking heart rate will always be relevant. It is a raised heart rate that leads to better mental health, increased fat burning efficiency, and reduced risk of health complications later in life.
If you are just starting out and you target 2000 steps or 1 mile in 15 minutes, you are not used to it so it will take effort. Your heart rate will increase to get more oxygen into the body to unlock energy leading to fat loss. However, your body is smart so it learns what it needs to make this task easier, and before long, 2000 steps in 15 minutes is a cakewalk. The mentality of most walkers I speak to is to be pleased when the breathlessness goes away.
This is fantastic, noticing and celebrating your achievements is an important part of progress. The challenge is that if you are celebrating your workout being easier, you are embracing the loss of a workout option, workouts are supposed to take effort. So I propose that you use breathlessness as your friend.
Because your labored breathing is a direct result of your increased heart rate due to increased effort, as you get fitter, it will take the same effort to get your heart rate up but you may need to walk further, walk faster or find another way to achieve it.
Aiming to raise your walking heart rate to about 60% of your max bpm should be sustainable for at least 15 minutes and will deliver a whole range of benefits whatever your level. Remember to track your time, elevation and distance, etc. as you will quickly notice that you are doing more each time.
The great news is that most smartwatches can track your heart rate and there is a range of options if you would like to buy a separate heart monitor. However, while it might be less scientifically accurate, you could just ensure you increase your efforts to the point where you are breathing heavily continuously for 15 minutes of your walk.
As you get used to targetting your walking heart rate, you can even use walking as interval training. Walk as fast as you can until you are completely out of breath, stop and recover before going again. This will add variety to your walking workout and maximize the benefits.
Target Your Movement And Your Exercise
The beauty about walking is that we do it anyway and it always has at least some health benefits. By broadening the range of walking targets we set, we are increasing our leverage. By setting yourself a daily step count target as well as a walking activity target every day, you giving yourself enough flexibility to raise your game one way or another.
For example, I set myself a daily target for total steps (usually 10000) and I will aim to get out walking for at least one hour per day where I will be targetting my heart rate. The easiest way is to include your exercise activity in your overall step count.
If I have muscular pain, I am going to want to forego my exercise activity but I can still ensure I get my overall steps in.
Don’t Listen To Your Body
What!? Most of the time I am saying “do listen to your body” so what is this about? Well, your body is a product of evolution (sorry creationists) so it has a few default mechanisms that we have needed for survival throughout history. It is these mechanisms that have got us to where we are. If you need food, you get hungry, if you eat too much food, you store it as fat. If you don’t get enough food you burn the fat in your energy stores etc.
Because we have not always lived in an age of abundance, your body will find a natural rhythm to make everything you do as energy-efficient as possible. However, the point of the exercise is not to be energy efficient unless it is game day and you are competing. Exercise is about improving performance and therefore we should be trying to increase our effort and be less energy efficient. Less energy-efficient means more calories burned so it’s great for weight loss, but it also means we work harder so our heart rate speeds up to deliver all of the healthy benefits of faster blood circulation.
Walking is a great low-impact form of exercise but it is one of the activities that our body will betray us with. Take a moment to analyze your own default walking gait. Yours might be a little different but it should not be difficult to notice some of the things you do to make your walk easier without thinking about it. Here is what I do:
Although I am happy with my posture and my spine is upright when I walk, my upper body is really relaxed as if it has just been placed atop my legs like a snowman’s head is plonked onto its body. My belly is relaxed like a little buddha and the most detrimental part is my free-swinging arms. To keep my balance and manage my momentum, with each step I take, I push the opposite arm out from the shoulder while keeping my elbows loose. Gravity then takes over and because my elbow is loose, it keeps swinging like a pendulum making use of gravity for momentum. Another detail is that my arms swing across the front of my body reducing air resistance as I walk.
By taking conscious control of these movements, I am able to increase my overall effort while sharing it across several muscle groups so no part of my body is taking on too much. Now when I am out walking, I will spend at least some of my walk standing up straight and holding my stomach in (not sucking it in, just engaging my abdominal muscles) so I can feel it when I walk. I also take control of my arms by ensuring I don’t rely on gravity for momentum. I lock my elbows with a slight bend and swing my arms out from the shoulder, straight out in front. By taking control of these movements, you will contract and expand more muscles with every step you take.
Try this yourself, you should feel a whole bunch of upper body engagement. This will not feel too challenging, but you have just increased the effort of every footstep you take. Now if you multiply that by your step count and you can see how it will build up.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life
Whatever your health motivation is, repetition can get a little stale. If you are walking for better mental health you may get desensitized to the beautiful views and your body will get used to the level of difficulty reducing potential physical health benefits.
I have a daily step count goal, a weekly step count goal and I must log an exercise activity where I target my heart rate at least 5 times a week (I usually go out 6 or 7). My daily target is 10000 steps but my weekly target is 80000 because I like to do at least one endurance walk per week.
The remainder of my walking activities for the week will include at least one session of Nordic Walking, one session of hill walking, one session of just walking fast enough to maintain my raised heart rate for an hour, and one session of interval walking via a secondary session of Nordic Walking or Hill Walking.
Physically, my body needs to adapt to a whole range of motion so I get more out of my walks and I never get bored of doing the same thing so I stay motivated.
Aim To Beat Yourself But Forgive Yourself If You Fall
When I used to start going to the gym, and I mean start because invariably I would get demotivated by something (usually it was exhaustion from work), I would be ashamed if I was lifting a weight smaller than a guy next to me who was not as big as me. As a result, I would pick up a weight I could lift but would cause me to lose form. By trying to live up to someone else’s routine, I was bicep curling but I wasn’t using my bicep. The truth is, I was much better off with lighter weight because I would lift it correctly and get more benefit. Eventually, I would get strong enough to lift heavier weights.
Walking is similar, my step target was set based on an arbitrary recommendation but it works for me. Many of you have chosen walking as an exercise due to the low-impact nature. Oftentimes, the thing that requires us to look for a low impact workout out, also means we need to set lower and more manageable targets than some of our piers.
I have talked to so many people who raise their walking game but don’t feel a sense of achievement because it’s not as high as the recommended 10000 steps or even the next person along. If you are trying to manage change in you, then you only need to achieve more than you previously achieved, rinse and repeat. Celebrate your victories over yesterday’s version of you. Be proud of your progress.
However, that being said, there will be times when lethargy wins, your muscles ache, or your routine hits you so hard in the face you are unable to hit your targets. I know this happens to me sometimes for a single day. If it happens for one day I am quick to accept it and get back on the horse. When it happens to me over consecutive days, it starts to create a metaphorical black cloud and I lose all motivation. I feel like progress is lost so what’s the point, and from speaking to other people, I am not alone in this thought pattern.
The trick is to remind yourself that you are not perfect but you are taking action, you have lost a couple of days but just the fact you feel bad about not exercising should show you the progress you have made. Then, and this is the most important bit, do it anyway. Just a walk around the block even if you feel like you do not want to, can jump-start you back into action. Why not remind yourself to keep going with some of these motivational stickers available from the Forty Thousand Footsteps Redbubble shop
Healthy Walking Tips – How Did You Get On?
If you are walking to lose weight, improve your mental health, or avoid future health complications, a few tweaks to your movement and mindset can supercharge your walking for health benefits. Implementing all of the above will take very little extra physical exertion and yield a positive ROI.
Why not try implementing some of these into your existing walking workout routine and let us know how you got on in the comments below.
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