Don’t change your route. Change your approach.
There are plenty of reasons to make walking part of your day. Fresh air and sunshine are obvious perks, and the countless health benefits-including reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, and stroke-provide ample motivation to put one foot in front of the other.
But the same loop can get boring. Motivation wanes, and suddenly you're full of excuses for skipping that evening stroll. It's a common scenario among walkers, but experts say there's a simple solution: Mix things up. From changing speed and direction to incorporating meditation techniques, there are plenty of ways to reinvent the same old walk.
Here, top fitness experts share their best tips to keep your walking routine fresh, fun, and effective—without ever needing to find a new route.
1. Try Some Fancy Footwork
“Mix up your foot patterns to keep your brain engaged while also improving balance and agility,” says Jessica Smith, certified trainer and creator of the Walk On: 5 Mix and Match Miles DVD.
Try alternating three to five minutes of your regular walking stride with one to three minutes of moves like walking sideways, crossover walks (crossing one foot over the other while continuing to move sideways), or walking heel to toe (as if you're balancing on a tightrope). Continue alternating movement styles until your walk is over.
2. Meditate While You Move
Walk at a comfortable pace and spend three minutes observing your surroundings through only one of your senses, suggests Danny Dreyer, co-founder of Chi Walking, a system of movement that blends the subtle inner focus of tai chi with walking.
For example, tune in to your sense of touch by noticing the sensations in your feet as they strike the ground, and then scan up through the rest of your body, noticing what you feel. After three minutes, switch to another sense: sight, sound, smell, or taste (yes, taste the "flavor" of your environment-is it sweet, dry, sharp, luscious?). Cycle through all five senses, and then repeat until you're finished walking. You're ultimately practicing moving meditation.
3. Embrace a Walker-Friendly Race
Setting a goal like completing your first 5K, 10K, or half-marathon is a great way to stay motivated. “Most of us underestimate what our bodies can do, but the truth is that anyone can walk a half- or even full marathon with the right training,” says Michele Stanten, walking coach and author of Walk Off Weight. “My mother walked a half-marathon at age 77!”
Choose any distance you're comfortable with-the most important thing is to find an event with a long time for the distance. For example, a half-marathon that allows four hours to finish.
4. Have Fun with Fartleks
Fartlek training is simply defined as periods of fast running mixed with periods of slower running, but it also works for walking, says Shane McLean, an American Council on Exercise personal trainer and SilverSneakers group exercise instructor.
Pick a spot in the distance, like a street sign or tree, and walk as fast as you can to that point. If you're walking with a partner, make it a race. Start with two or three intervals throughout your route, and add more when you feel comfortable. Remember to allow yourself time to recover between intervals: one to three minutes, depending on your fitness level.
5. Trade Your Playlist for a Podcast
Music can boost your workout, but it's not your only auditory option. Listening to programs that teach you something-instead of music-can better engage the brain and also provide a welcome distraction during exercise.
"I find that people who tune in to programs like this while walking often don't realize how much time has gone by," says Jamie Logie, a personal trainer, nutritionist, and founder of Regained Wellness. "Or they want to keep going so they can continue listening to the show."
6. Go Long—Then Go Longer
"Once you're warmed up, pick a starting point and take off walking as quickly as you can for 15 minutes," says Stanten. Notice how far you make it, and then walk back at a more leisurely pace.
For your next walk, do it again and see if you can make it farther. If you prefer to walk a loop, time yourself to see how long it takes you to complete the route, and try to beat your time.
7. Breathe to the Beat of Your Steps
Get an instant energy boost by adding a percussive breathing exercise to your walk, says Smith. Inhale deeply and briskly through your nose for four counts (so, inhale on each count: 1, 2, 3, 4), and then exhale through your nose again on a four-count. Repeat three to four times while walking at an easy pace.
8. Meet Some Resistance
Bring a lightweight resistance band on your walk, and do strength exercises along the way. "It's a much better and safer option than hand weights or ankle weights," says Stanten. Do 10 to 12 reps each of walking-friendly exercises like chest presses, rows, or biceps curls.
9. Incorporate Low-Intensity Intervals
You might be familiar with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), but low-intensity interval training (LIIT) can have similar health benefits, says Logie. With HIIT, you perform a high-intensity exercise for 30 to 45 seconds followed by 90 to 120 seconds of recovery. LIIT is the same dynamic with, no surprise, less intensity.
Start by walking at your normal pace for five to eight minutes-you should still be able to have a conversation. Then, speed up to a brisk pace or very light jog for around 90 seconds. This should be more intense but not so much that you can't catch your breath. Return to your normal walking pace for three to five minutes. Repeat this cycle over the course of a 30-minute walk.
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