If you’re stuck at home, one of the simplest – and highly underrated – forms of exercise is to head outside for a walk.
Walking is free, requires no equipment (aside from workout shoes) and can be done indoors or outside. You can go for a walk alone, with your kids, while on a conference call or during the day or at night. It’s an easily accessible form of exercise that can be done mostly anywhere, anytime, for as little or long as you’d like.
In terms of positive impacts on health, the American Cancer Society advises that adults get 150 minutes per week of moderately intense physical activity, like walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, preferably spread throughout the week. A daily moderate walk of just 22 minutes gets you to that 150-minutes-a-week target. If you’re a more vigorous walker or exerciser, a mere 11 minutes a day gets you to 75 minutes of beneficial activity each week.
This is a recommendation for overall health, but a recent study led by American Cancer Society researchers found that any level of walking was correlated with lower mortality risk and longer lives. Participants who walked even just one to two times the recommended amount saw mortality rates lowered by 20%.
If you’re looking for extra motivation to get outdoors and walk – or even walk around your house! – you can easily turn your walk into a workout.
Adding some intervals, core work and strength training will maximize the impact of your daily activity. Incorporating intervals into your walks can help improve cardiovascular endurance, burn more calories and keep your exercise routine fun and interesting.
Building muscle through strength training helps speed up the metabolism, improve balance and improve lean muscle mass. Stabilizing the core can help reduce back pain and improve posture.
Here’s how to take your walk to the next level.
Walking intervals: speed up and slow down
Instead of walking at a steady pace, try adding in some speed drills to get your heart pumping. Walk for one block at a regular pace, and then speed walk for the next block. Keep alternating for your entire walk.
Research shows that just one minute total of going all out in cardio exercise out of 10 minutes significantly improves aerobic capacity and blood sugar scores. Doing short bursts (in this case, the study’s participants went for 10- to 20-second bursts as fast as possible) within the 10 minutes yielded these positive results.
If we translate this to walking, adding in intervals and speed walking alternated with moderately paced walking is more impactful than just maintaining one pace for the entire walk.
As you walk, be precise about each step. Strike with your heel then toe, squeeze your glutes as you step and pull your naval in toward your spine. Engage this position whether you’re walking at a moderate pace or speed walking.
Really think about pressing down through each heel and engaging the hamstring and glute of that leg each time you strike the ground. While you’re breathing, think about exhaling to pull the naval in toward the spine as if you’re zipping a tight pair of pants and trying to squeeze into them.
Lower-body strength training
Working out the legs and glutes during your walk will create more of a HIIT workout: high-intensity interval training. You’ll be alternating between cardio (walking) and strength training (leg exercises), which is similar to doing a circuit class at the gym. There are many ways to integrate lower-body strength training into your walk. Here are a few suggestions:
After you walk for one block, stop and do 10 squats. Walk another block, and do 10 more squats. Do this at least three times throughout your walk.
Walk for a block, then do walking lunges for another block. Pay attention to your form: Step forward with your right foot and bend the right knee over the right ankle. Lower the left knee down toward the ground, and keep your back upright. Press down through the right heel to stand up, then step your left foot forward. Repeat this for a block, or start with just 10. Do this three times throughout your walk.
If you’re walking inside, time yourself for five minutes. After walking for five minutes, do three sets of 10 repetitions of either squats or lunges.
For modifications, only go down halfway into a squat or halfway into a lunge. You can also stay stationary with the lunges instead of walking lunges.
Upper-body strength training
You don’t need weights to work your arms and back. Doing upper-body strength training exercises during your walk is a great way to tone and chisel your arms and upper back. Two exercises that are very simple to perform while walking include shoulder-blade squeezes and lat pull-down moves.
To perform the shoulder-blade squeezes, put your arms up into a goal-post position with your arms bent at 90 degrees. Squeeze your elbows toward the back so that you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pretend like you’re trying to squeeze a diamond in between your shoulder blades. Then release. Squeeze and release for a block or for 30 seconds if you’re walking in your home.
For a lat pull-down, reach your arms up and out on a diagonal. This is your starting position. Pretend like you’re holding onto a bar and about to pull it down in front of your face. Bend your elbows to pull down your arms so that your arms end at the height of your shoulders, and your shoulder blades squeeze together. Relax the shoulders as you reach the arms back up to the starting position.
Repeat this for 30 seconds or for a block, then rest.
Finally, focus on your breath. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Imagine your walk as your own moving meditation. If you find thoughts swirling in your head, or you start feeling stressed or anxious about something in your day, bring your attention back to your breath.
In yoga and meditation, the breath is the centering focus that keeps you present and mindful. Turn your walk into a moving meditation by focusing on one thing: your breath. Inhale positivity and exhale negativity, or inhale and think “calm” and exhale and think, “getting rid of stress.”
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With these five ways to amplify your routine, you’ll find that a simple walk can take you farther than you had thought in improving the health of your body and mind. Make the most of your walk by choosing one or all five of these suggestions, or incorporating one of them today, two tomorrow and three the next day.