Walking shouldn’t be your only form of exercise. We need strength training too! However, walking can be part of a comprehensive health and fitness program. The problem with walking is your body quickly adapts to doing the same movements over and over again, especially if you walk at the same speed on a flat surface. Eventually, your body becomes so efficient at doing a basic walking movement that you burn fewer calories. However, there are ways to make a walking workout more challenging. Would you like to kick the walking you do up a notch and get more benefits? According to a 2015 study, simply changing your walking pace can help you burn more calories.
The Benefits of Changing the Pace When You Walk
Researchers at The Ohio State University found that simply varying the pace at which you walk boosts the total calorie burn by up to 20%. How can you implement this? Rather than walk at a steady pace, vary the pace at which you walk. Pick up the pace for short intervals and then slow down. The simple act of changing the pace increases energy expenditure and the calories you burn when you walk.
In a recent study, researchers had subjects walk on a treadmill at a set speed but asked them to change the pace when they walked. In this case, the participants picked up the pace to move further toward the top of the treadmill and then slowed it so that they hovered closer to the back, all while the speed stayed constant. As the researchers in the study point out, changing the pace of a walking workout uses energy. In fact, as much as 8% of the energy we burn while walking comes from changing the pace or starting and stopping.
Of course, you can also burn more calories and get more cardiovascular benefits if you pick up the speed with which you walk as well. You might already be familiar with interval walking. It’s a similar concept to interval training where you walk fast for short periods and then slow the speed and pace to partially recover. Research shows that interval workouts are a more time-efficient way to exercise and likely offer more cardiovascular benefits as well. When you stress your heart through vigorous exercise, it makes numerous adaptations that make it a more efficient pump. However, lots of people always walk on level ground at the same low to moderate pace, thereby not maximizing the cardiovascular benefits or the calorie burn.
Just as when you lift weights, you increase the resistance, the number of reps, or other factors that force your muscles to work harder over time, you need to progressively increase the challenge to maximize the health and fitness benefits you get from walking. Most people get too comfortable with a walking routine and fail to boost the challenge over time. That’s why they stop making gains in aerobic fitness and burn fewer calories.
Other Ways to Boost the Calories Burned with Exercise
Increasing the pace or speed of a walking session isn’t the only way to burn more calories and get more cardiovascular benefits. Why not tackle a few hills? If you’re walking on a treadmill, increase the incline. You’ll quickly discover that walking on an incline makes you breathe harder and stresses your body more. Thus, you burn more calories. If you’re outdoors, map out a route that includes a few hills of varying difficulty to increase the challenge. Start with one hill and gradually add more as you become fitter.
You can also boost the challenge of walking by wearing a weighted vest. Look for weighted vests with pockets where you can place various weights to increase or decrease the challenge. According to the American Council on Exercise, you can significantly boost calorie burn by putting on a weighted vest before a walk. In a study, wearing a weighted vest the equivalent of 15% of BMI while walking at 2.5 miles per hour on a flat treadmill boosted calorie burn by 12%. That’s significant!
Of course, you can also burn more calories by increasing the distance you walk, but that takes more time. It’s more time expedient to pick up the speed or pace at intervals rather than work out longer. Your cardiovascular system also works harder when you pick up the pace, add hills, or interval walk.
The Bottom Line
How many times have you seen charts that show how many calories you burned based on how far and fast you walked? You probably burned more calories than the chart states. That’s because you changed the pace periodically, started, stopped, changed directions etc. Any change in direction or speed increases the calorie burn. You burn the fewest calories when you walk at a steady speed on a flat, unchanging surface without changing direction or moving your arms. So, by changing any of these conditions – swinging your arms, changing directions, throwing a weight vest on, picking up the pace or speed, you’ll expend more energy. That, in turn, leads to a greater calorie burn.
So, if walking is part of your lose weight or get healthier strategy, add some variation to your walks. The most intense approach would be to tackle steep hills with a weight vest on or do high-intensity interval walking workout with or without a weighted vest. Of course, you should work up to a bigger challenge and not tackle too much too quickly. Don’t forget that aerobic exercise is only one aspect of fitness training, health, and weight control. You need strength training too. Strength training builds metabolically active muscle tissue that helps with weight control and improves blood sugar control as well. But, you might discover that you enjoy walking, if only as a way to relieve stress or to break up long periods of sitting. It’s an exercise you can do almost anywhere and one that requires no equipment.
Whether you’re walking as part of a total fitness program or walking for pleasure, add more challenge by changing the pace of speed or by tackling a few hills. Your body will respond with adaptations that improve your overall fitness level and your health.
The Ohio State University. “New study shows that varying walking pace burns more calories”
ACE Fitness. “ACE Research: Improve Walking Workouts with Weighted Vests”