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Walking for Fitness

Simple tips to optimize benefits


Walking for Fitness

Walking is a great way to increase your fitness level. Learn how to boost the intensity of your walks so you get the full benefits of this whole-body exercise.

Move more. This mantra of so many physical activity promotional campaigns is simple and effective. Walking is the very best place to start or continue your personal “move more” strategy. Here are some tips to get even more fitness benefits from your walks without having to become a full-fledged runner.

Move smarter—it’s in the technique

When enhanced fitness is the goal, aim to generate more power with the muscles. This will increase the heart rate for cardio benefits and will expend more energy. You don’t have to morph into a runner, but walking faster is a key strategy.

Improve speed by taking cues from race walkers. Their very distinct walking technique allows them to take faster steps, not longer steps. Here’s how they move more powerfully, thus increasing speed and energy expenditure.

  1. Assume an upright posture. Draw the shoulders back slightly and keep a forward gaze.
  2. Keep the arms bent to 90 degrees. This allows for a more efficient swing through and propulsion.
  3. Push off the toes for more power.

Learn to monitor your physiology

As with any fitness-building activity, the intensity must be high enough to elicit a training response. Your physiology will provide indicators to help determine if you are walking at a fitness-building pace.

Listen to your breath

A noticeably increased breathing rate indicates you have entered a cardio training zone.

Bring attention to your body temperature

After several minutes of walking at a fitness-building pace you will feel warmer and may break a sweat.

Boost intensity

Once your walking technique is optimized and you know how to monitor your physiology, apply a few walking strategies that will use more muscles.


Hills are a fitness walker’s best friend. Lifting the weight of the body with each step demands power from the largest muscles of the body.

Interval training

Interval training involves working at significantly higher intensities for a short bout of time between bouts of low intensity. Try 30 seconds at a high speed followed by

30 seconds at a moderate speed. Repeat several cycles.

Take it indoors

Walking on a treadmill has been the starting point for many successful health and fitness seekers and a saviour for fair-weather walkers of all levels.

Track and log your workout

Continuous improvement in fitness is assured if you keep an observant eye on the distance, the speed, and the intensity of your walks.

Count your steps

A simple step counter can help you set very specific goals and create challenges that will keep you progressing.

Keep a walking log

This is where you record your distance, steps, and time to complete each walk. Also record heart rate and perceived intensity level on a scale of one to 10.

Map your favourite routes

Use online maps to get exact distances and establish routes for set distances such as 1 km, 5 km, or 10 km.

Set smart goals for every stage

Commitment goal

Just starting a walking program? Goals at this point should be to simply identify several time slots each week you can commit to walking. Enter them in a day planner for the following two weeks and schedule the rest of your life around them.

Sample commitment goal—I will walk for 30 minutes on my lunch break on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next two weeks.

Performance goal

Have you been walking for a few months already? You are ready to set some performance goals. Identify a distance you have been walking regularly and aim to decrease your time to complete that distance by a set time every week.

Sample performance goal—I will decrease the time it takes to complete my 5 K walk by 2 percent each week for the next six weeks.

Intensity goal

Are you a regular walker looking to take it to the next intensity level?

Sample intensity goal—I will increase the amount of time I spend walking at a fitness-building pace by two minutes each week this month.

Stay motivated

“No one knows, till he tries, how easily a habit of walking is acquired,” said Thomas Jefferson, an avid walker who counted steps and logged each walk faithfully. With these strategies you will develop a healthy habit that will be hard to break.

Make it social

Join a walking group with similar goals or fitness-walk with friends.

Establish rewards

Earn anything from a gold star to a new outfit when you accomplish the specific goal you set.

Mix it up

Different walking routes, goal distances, and times will add variety to prevent boredom.

It doesn’t take much at all to take your walks to the next level. Track your stats, set some goals, inject a little more intensity, and bring some pals for a fitness boost.

Walk-enhancing tools

The beauty of walking is that it is a low-cost, do-anywhere physical activity. Although no fancy equipment is required, there are a few simple tools that will help turn your leisure walk into a fitness-boosting one.


A pedometer is a brilliant tool for fitness walkers. A low-cost and lightweight step counter will provide all the data you need to set specific, measurable distance and speed goals so you can continuously work on challenging yourself and advancing your fitness.

Heart rate monitor

A heart rate monitor picks up the electrical activity of the heart and offers valuable real-time data about how your physiology is responding to the exertion of your walks. It helps you to decide when to increase intensity and allows you to see fitness improvements long before the scale budges.

Nordic walking poles

Nordic walking poles are lightweight poles with hand grips and rubber feet. Energy expenditure increases considerably with walking poles due to the increased use of upper body muscles and the resulting speed capability.



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Brendan Rolfe, CPHR, BA, DipABrendan Rolfe, CPHR, BA, DipA