Taking a leisurely stroll around the mall is better than nothing, but you’re probably not going to see any drastic fitness results at a super slow pace.
By picking up the tempo on your walks, however, you can torch some major calories and see important health benefits.
It makes sense when you think about it: Ramping up your speed from 3 mph to 4 mph can help you burn 50 percent more calories. Or, it can help you complete your workout more quickly if you’re strapped for time. You can burn 374 calories by walking for an hour at a 4 mph pace, according to Prevention. Keep that up five days a week and you could lose an extra 10 pounds per year.
You don’t need any fancy equipment to measure your speed, either. Simply count the number of steps you take per minute—120 steps per minute is a pace of roughly 3 mph, according to eMedicineHealth. Pick it up to 135-140 steps per minute for a 4 mph pace.
“Ramping up your speed trains the heart, lungs and skeletal muscles to use oxygen more efficiently,” Brian Duscha, an exercise physiologist at Duke University Medical Center, told Prevention.
Walking briskly is just as good as running for lowering your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, according to a 2013 study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Walking quickly for exercise is also great for increasing your bone density and can help clear your mind after a long day.
“Bones are like muscles in the way that they get stronger and denser the more demands you place on them,” personal trainer Lucy Knight told Active. “The pull of a muscle against a bone, together with the force of gravity when you walk, will stress the bone—which responds by stimulating tissue growth and renewal.”
Though power walking is an excellent go-to exercise, be sure to do some strength training during the week, too, Dr. Melinda Ratini told WebMD. Strong muscles will make it easier for you to walk faster, help you burn more calories and improve your posture.
Be sure to use proper form when you’re walking for fitness, since bad technique can result in painful injuries:
- Make sure your head is up and your gaze is forward—don’t look at the ground, according to the Mayo Clinic. You’ll want to swing your arms freely at your side with a slight bend in the elbows. Pumping your arms can help you burn a few extra calories, but it’s not necessary.
- Keep your core tight to help build ab strength while you walk. Roll from your heels to your toes, pushing off with the toes on your back foot.
- You’ll also want to invest in some high-quality shoes with arch support and a firm heel, experts at the Mayo Clinic say.
- If you’re going to be walking at night, wear reflective clothing and a headlamp so that you’re visible to motorists. If it’s going to be extremely cold, consider walking indoors at a shopping mall—many open early just for walkers.
Be cautious and consult a doctor first, before you start a vigorous new walking routine. Your risk of heart attack goes up during the winter, so if you have any risk factors—obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure—take it easy on your first walk. You can always build up to a quicker pace and longer walks.