I don’t know about all my fellow mommies, but walking was the sole exercise I performed during and after my first pregnancy. At that point, I had only been into fitness for a little while, so I did not want do any crazy exercises that could harm my baby because of my unfamiliarity on the subject.
2 years ago, right after my son was born, we lived on the 3rd floor of our apartment complex so I was daily getting some sort of walking activity. I began to keep my son’s jogging stroller in the car so I could simply carry him downstairs, open up the stroller, and begin walking. However, this still happened very rarely because, as other moms know, there is very little energy left in our bodies during the day for exercise because of having a new baby.
A little more than a year ago, hubby and I bought our first house, and I finally reached a place where I was regularly exercising at home and/or going on daily walks. I not only noticed a difference in my energy levels throughout the day, but I also noticed I was losing weight and gaining strength. Even during the times I was solely walking for my daily exercise, there was a difference in how I felt.
How Walking Benefits Health
Quite a few studies have found that those who walk at fast or brisk pace for 30-60 minutes per day usually results in a smaller waist and lower BMI versus people who are not walking at all. Because this is a type of exercise, people will get a daily dose of endorphins to improve their mood and mental stability. And, even this small amount of exercise put them ahead of people who never intentionally walk at all.
When I realized I was feeling better mentally and physically from walking, I began exercising this way more and more. Walking has been associated with aiding many mental and physical ailments. In an article by Dr. Josh Axe, he states that “over the years, walking has been linked to protection against certain conditions and diseases, including: obesity, heart disease, hypertension, coronary artery disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety disorders, dementia, Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline, arthritis, hormonal imbalances, PMS symptoms, thyroid disorders, and Fatigue and low energy levels”.
I can definitely attest to walking being beneficial for my personal fatigue or low energy levels! The other comparison I use is that I am rarely sore after taking a 30-60 minute walk, while I get aches and pains routinely from doing HIIT workouts. Obviously, if you are just starting to do any kind of exercise, there may be some soreness after walking (especially up hill).
High intensity training circuits like Crossfit are amazing, but they can be very hard on people’s joints (my hand is raised). For this reason, many people solely use walking to exercise. They don’t have to have a gym membership and really, people can walk whenever and wherever they want. All you need are some comfy clothes, a water bottle, and good walking shoes.
Age, gender, height, weight, and walking speed are all factors that contribute to the stress that is put on an individuals hips and knees. Using the aforementioned factors, someone can produce 2.1 – 4.3 times their body weight of force on their hips. While walking along a level surface, these individuals can put around 3.4 times their body weight on their knees, and around 5 times when walking on a hill or other incline.
These numbers may seem high, but they are a far sight smaller than the pounds of force put on your joints when doing HIIT or running. If joint health is a concern, remember to be taking a joint supplement everyday and drink plenty of water.
1. Treadmill & Videos
I LOVE that walking is so versatile! These days, people don’t even have to leave the house to get in a good walk. However, for me, getting OUT of the house is a must. For others, they aren’t able to leave the house because of work, or the roads are icy, or there’s a hurricane!
First, there is the trusty treadmill. If you have one of these or have some spare change to purchase one, it could be worth your while if you are serious about walking. A good treadmill has amazing features like a heart rate monitor, speed and incline adjustments, time and distance measurements, and some even come with “personal trainer” workouts. This a fantastic tool if you would rather walk inside your house, and still get the exercise you need. Because it is so versatile with incline and speed, a treadmill can help you lose weight in no time.
The other non-outside option are home workout videos specifically about walking. Most people have probably heard of Leslie Sansone’s “Walk Away the Pounds” videos. I have a few friends who lost an impressive amount of weight from using these videos. These particular videos have training at multiple difficulty levels, and this is important when trying to get in shape and lose weight so you will not plateau. Even if you are not looking to lose weight, these videos are a great way to stay in shape during the winter or as a break from your usual workout routine.
Many people, including myself, enjoy following video instructions when working out because it feels like we aren’t alone (well, moms are never alone). If you think training videos about walking are your cup of tea, then dive in! These videos are usually very simple to follow, there is low risk of injury because they guide you through a warm-up, and any high intensity bits will be minimal.
2. How Long Should You Walk
This is the million dollar question isn’t it? Me? I could walk for hours because I love to explore my neighborhood or see the gorgeous scenery at a park. But, me and most other mommies don’t have the time lengthy walks.
Any doctor would probably suggest getting in a 30-60 minute walk everyday if that is your form of exercise. My physician has always said that slower is better in the beginning, and I think she is right. Don’t overdo it when you are just starting to exercise (this goes for any kind).
If you are trying to walk at a brisk pace to get your heart rate up, you may not be able to do that for 35-30 minutes on your first go. Instead, start by walking at a medium to brisk pace for 15 minutes. Gradually you can up the walk to 20 minutes, 25 minutes, 30 minutes and so on. You can also gradually add the number of days to walk. Aim for 2 days a week to start, and if you feel that is not enough, start with 3. Continue to add a day until you are able to walk at least 5 days, but can aim for every day of the week. By gradually increasing the time and days spent walking, you will lower any risk of injury, and build up endurance for longer walks.
To aid in seeing how much activity you get while on a walk, I suggest finding a good pedometer. This can aid in tracking how many steps you’ve taken during your exercise, as well as the miles you’ve trekked and the estimated calories burned. The FitBit is a popular wrist pedometer that tracks exercise, steps and sleep, and there are also other pedometers which hook on your pants like the 3D TriSport Walking Pedometer.
The American Heart Association usually suggests getting 10,000 steps a day for the best possible health. They also suggest walking more like 15,000 steps if people are wanting to lose weight. This may seem like a lot, but we walk a lot more than we think, especially if we have active jobs (i.e chasing around a 2-year-old). You may have to be more intentional about walking if you have a desk or other sedentary job.
A 30-60 minute walk each day is going to put a fair amount of steps in your daily log. How many steps each person will get during depends on the length of one’s stride, how fast they are walking, and how long they spend walking. However, by combining walking briskly for 30-60 minutes, tracking daily steps, and intentionally walking throughout the day, you will be able to get in shape and lose weight.
3. Pace and Incline Can Impact Calorie Burn
You should always start the first 5 minutes of your walk with a warm-up. Walk at a slow, steady pace so that your joints begin to loosen and your heart rate begins to rise. This can help prevent any injury and gets you ready for the exercise part of walking.
If your main goal in walking is to lose weight and tone your body, then a fast pace and incline are your friends. By walking faster, your body is having to exert more energy to keep blood flow to your heart and brain. Having to work harder = more calories burned. A fast pace for most people is around 3-4 mph and the target heart rate at this pace is usually 60-70% of your heart’s maximum. You will know you are walking this fast because your heart rate will be elevated, but you will still be able to talk
The longer you can stay in the “fast walk zone”, the better. If you have worked up to walking for 30 minutes, try to allow for the middle 20 minutes to be at that 3-4 mph. You can always increase this maximum exertion period the longer you walk and build up more endurance. This is how you will reap the most benefits from walking for your health and if wanting to lose weight is your goal.
Do you have hills in the area or a decent hiking trail in the area? Basically, aim for the hills! Your pace may not be as fast, but an incline or rugged mountain is just as effective. It will work your muscles in different ways because, depending on the incline, you could be doing a variety of lunges to get to the top. If keeping track of your heart rate, never fear, because trying to walk a medium to semi-fast pace up a hill will probably raise it higher than when walking on a flat surface at a fast pace.
Make sure to mix up your pace and be on the lookout for inclines whenever possible. This will help your walks not to become boring, and your body will not plateau. Build up your pace with inclines just like on flat surfaces; eventually, you may be able to walk up a large hill at 3-4 mph!
4. HIIT Walking/Power Walking
Power walking may be a funny looking exercise, but can those people book it! People who enter power walk marathons or races are just as fit of athletes as runners are, AND walking is easier on the joints. Now, this is not to say that you have to become a power walking champion by tomorrow, but this is where walking can become a high intensity exercise.
Since we are already walking at a fast pace (3-4 mph) during our walks, why not work towards an even faster pace for a maximum calorie burn? I’m not sure if other people call power walking this, but I’m going with it: HIIT Walking. Regular HIIT has you doing different exercise completely maxed out for a period of time and then you have a brief rest in between sets. HIIT Walking would be no different because you would walk a regular brisk pace, and then for 30 seconds, walk at 4-5 mph or as fast as you can without running. After the 30 seconds has elapsed, you would slow back down to your regular brisk speed.
This is another thing which will take time and practice to do so make sure to not overdo it with HIIT walking. If 30 seconds is too much for an interval, start with 20 seconds and build your way up so you can do longer interval at your max. Set a goal to work your way up to being able to HIIT walk for 1 minute intervals, walk a 1 minute “rest” interval, and then do it again. HIIT is so flexible that you could set a timer to walk like this for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or set a number of intervals you want to do before you finish.
Mommies: this is totally something you can do with a stroller. At first, you may not be able to walk as fast, but it will still be a great exercise because you already have resistance in the form of your stroller and baby. This is how I have to walk everyday, and I not only love the exercise, my son loves going for rides.
I would definitely recommend using some sort of timer for any walk so you will be able to calculate how much exercise you are getting. This is especially important when doing HIIT walking because when focusing on walking fast and breathing, it will be difficult to keep a count in your head. Use an interval timer and stop watch like those made by Gymboss, a good sports stop watch or take your phone with you and use its timer. I have an app on my phone called Interval Timer, and I use it for regular HIIT workouts and walking. You can set the time you want for your max interval, the time for your “rest”, and how many repetitions you would like. Do the math so you are HIIT walking for 20 minutes on up, and enjoy the health and burn benefits this brings!
5. Add Weight to Your Walks
Our bodies (and us for that matter) like when exercise is mixed up. If you are going to walk everyday for exercise, mix it up by going on different routes, AND by adding more than just body weight to your walks. More resistance will help burn more calories and help your body gain more strength than it could when walking with out it.
ALWAYS, Build the amount of resistance you use gradually as to deter any injury.
If you have a light pair of dumbbells, hold those while you walk so your arms will get a workout. Ankle weights can sometimes double as wrist weight, and there are also weights exclusively for the wrists. The ankle weights will bring more resistance and eventual strength to your legs, while they will do the same if worn on the wrists. These come in multiple weights so at first, you can use a 1 pound ankle weight, and build up the resistance to 2-5 pounds per ankle weight.
Another piece of resistance you could use is either a weighted belt or weighted vest. Because these sit around the core of the body, they can maximize the overall calorie burn during your walk. They also come in a variety of weights, but even an extra 5-12 pounds of weight will make a world of difference during your exercise time.
The last mix-up for a walk is doing body weight strength training. If you are focused on doing HIIT walking, do a 4-5 mph walking interval, and then do some squats or reverse lunges during your “rest”. Depending on where you are walking, you may be able to do tricep dips or incline push ups on a park bench. Or, do a static sumo squat while punch the air in front of you as fast as you can. These strength exercise will bring the heart rate slightly down, but are instrumental in toning the body and continuing to move during the entire HIIT circuit.
6. Use the Long Route Everywhere
The best way to get enough steps in during the day is walk more. It is that simple.
Instead of driving around to try and find the closest parking spot to a building, find the farthest parking spot. Some shopping centers have enormous parking lots because they have more than one store. Park in a corner near a tree or light post so you have a landmark to remember, then walk your way to the final destination.
If there is not time crunch and someone is dropping you off somewhere, have them drop you a block or two from where you need to be. Maybe you use the bus a lot as a mode of transportation. Get off earlier than you need to and briskly walk the rest of the way to your stop.
When you are in a big store or mall, walk around for a few minutes before you begin shopping. The clothes and shoes are not going anywhere. 😉 Another thing you may run into at a big store or mall is the elevator, escalator, stair dilemma. If possible, always opt to take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator. A little bit a extra work will get you where you need to go, and it won’t take too much longer.
You may not be able to walk as fast or with as much intent as when you are walking for exercise, but walking while doing errands or shopping is still movement. Get as much in every day and you WILL start to notice a difference in your health and your body.
I hope this list has been helpful to you if you are thinking about walking as a form of exercise. If there are any other tips that have worked for you when walking for exercise, PLEASE let me know! 😀