6 ways to turn your walk into a workout
As exercise, walking has lots of advantages: It’s inexpensive and accessible. It doesn’t require equipment beyond a comfortable pair of shoes. You can do it with a pal. So, during the COVID-19 pandemic many of us have been walking a lot.
“The best thing people can do is move their bodies,” said Kristen Siminski, an inpatient physical therapist at Cape Cod Hospital. “Sometimes there’s this push to do this intense working out. I think the best thing we can do is actually do something that you want to do.”
That said, whether you are a long-time walker or a newbie, there are ways to bump it up and turn your walk into more of a workout.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. One “moderate exercise,” the agency says, is walking 3 to 4.5 mph on a level surface inside or outside. Another goal: Get your heart beating in a range that is 50 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. That number is affected by age because, as we grow older, our hearts beat a little more slowly. So, to estimate your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from the number 220.
If your walk isn’t raising your heart rate, Siminski has suggestions on how to turn up the intensity. One warning: Be careful about adding weights to your walk. Ankle weights may increase the load on the ankle joint and change your gait pattern, she said. Small (1- to 3-pound) handheld weights might be OK but check with a physical therapist or other clinician first, she said.
Here are her six tips on how to turn your walk into a workout:
- Head to the trails. “The thing that’s good with walking on the beach or the woods is you’re working with different elevations. And, walking on the beach, it’s uneven,” she said. “It’s harder to walk in the sand so it adds some complexity and a little bit of a challenge.”
- Use walking sticks. These sticks, similar to ski poles, encourage you to move your arms as well as your legs, helping to raise your heart rate. They also provide stability. “I started using them in winter just to bump up my workout because I love walking,” Siminski said. “My heart rate definitely increased with the walking sticks.”
- Invest in seasonal gear. Don’t let the cooler weather keep you indoors. Consider snowshoes or the mini-spikes or crampons that fit onto sneakers or boots and provide traction during the winter months. Walking in snow, like sand, is harder and another way to make your body work harder.
- Do intervals. Interval training or short bursts of intense exercise, can provide more benefits in less time, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Siminski doesn’t really like running but sometimes she’ll run for two minutes, then walk for a minute, and repeat several times. Or, as she suggests, walk as fast as you can for two minutes and then back it down for one. She uses an interval app on her phone to remind her when to change pace.
- Head to the hills. If your route is usually flat, then look to challenge yourself with a different street or trail. This is another way to do intervals, and to explore different areas of the Cape.
- Make walking a social event. There’s nothing wrong with walking alone, but walking with a friend gains the added bonus of socialization, which has been proven to be good for our psyches and our brains.
“I find walking is my social life,” said Siminski. “Instead of saying, ‘oh let’s go for a glass of wine’ or ‘let’s go to lunch,’ I’m more apt to say, ‘let’s go for a walk.’”