Who says a walk can’t be a workout?
By Jancee Dunn
During our monthlong series dedicated to the joys of walking, this time we’re turning our walk into a workout.
Walking, at any intensity, is good for you. A slow, steady pace has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. But research suggests that increasing the length of your walk can lower the risk of premature death and diseases such as cancer — and raising intensity brings additional benefits.
To help us level up our walks, I reached out to Janet Dufek, a professor of kinesiology and nutrition sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I also took a fitness-focused walk with Martinus Evans, a certified running coach and the founder of Slow AF Run Club.
Evans and I explored Prospect Park in Brooklyn, where he reminded me that a workout walk, more than anything else, should be fun. “We’re not elite athletes,” he said. “We’re walking for joy, and we can make up our own rules.”
Involve the arms
Walking engages large muscle groups — such as glutes and quads — but if it’s your only form of movement, try adding exercises that focus on your upper body, Dufek said.
Consider bringing 1- or 2-pound weights, Evans said. You can use them while you’re walking, or pull over and do bicep curls or shoulder presses.
Dufek suggested trying arm motions such as air punching: Hold the weights and extend your arms, as if you’re boxing. You can also make a “T” shape with your arms as you hold the weights, bending and extending at the elbow.
Instead of weights, you can bring full water bottles, which can serve as makeshift weights as you start out, Dufek added. They will also serve as motivation to stay hydrated later in your walk, she added, “as you drink down your stash.”
If you don’t want to carry weights, you can swing your arms more vigorously or try arm circles. Start with wide arcs and slowly “minimize them until they’re very small circles,” Evans said. Go in one direction for 30 seconds, then switch to the other direction.
Use your environment
As you walk, Evans said, look for ways to build in a little more activity. When we passed a park bench, he suggested we do a few squats. (“Get up, sit back down.”) Another option: Stop and do 10 standing calf raises. (Raise your heels slowly, hold for a few seconds and then lower your heels back to the ground.)
Change your pace and route
You can boost your workout by walking on different terrain, Dufek said. “It is harder to walk on loose trail dirt than on a sidewalk,” she said. If you can go to the beach, Dufek added, dry sand is “an extreme walking surface” that requires more effort.
You can also vary your intensity and speed, she said. Pick up the pace for 30 seconds, she said, and then recover for three minutes.
Consider a contest
If you’re walking with someone, try engaging in “a little friendly competition,” Evans said. “You can say, ‘All right, the last person to the stoplight — and you got to walk, no running — buys coffee.’”
Count dogs, not minutes
To build endurance and keep on the trail longer, don’t fixate on time, Evans said. Instead, he suggested counting “all the dogs you see, and make it a goal not to go home until you see 25 dogs.” Or you can count stoplights, he said, or fire hydrants. “Make it fun,” he said.
As Evans and I walked along, we pointed out pups to each other. At the end of our walk, we sat on a bench and totaled up everything we had seen. Ten dogs. Two hot dog vendors. And, Evans reminded me, one shirtless guy on a unicycle.
“If you’re counting shirtless guys on unicycles instead of dogs,” he said, “your walk may be shorter.”