Transform Your Walk
THERE ARE PLENTY OF REASONS WHY, every day, millions of people take to the streets--and the parks, the trails, even the mall. If you're looking to boost your fitness, reduce stress, and manage your weight, walking is a natural choice that really works. In fact, walking just 2,000 extra steps a day, or about a mile, is enough to keep most people from gaining weight, according to research by James O. Hill, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and co-author of The Step Diet Book. "Building a little bit more walking into your day can prevent that 1 to 2 pounds that people tend to gain each year," Hill says. And while putting one foot in front of the other is simple enough, it helps to have a few tricks of the trade to make your walks more effective and pleasurable. Here, a team of exercise experts answers our questions about how to transform a simple stroll into a savvy fitness strategy.
Where should I walk?
Just about anywhere will do fine. But if walking forms your cardio foundation, be sure to vary the surfaces you walk on to keep your routine well-rounded. "On a treadmill you can do high-intensity speed intervals and hill climbing in rapid succession, allowing the treadmill's absorbable surface to reduce impact," says Debbie Rocker, a Los Angeles-based walking coach and creator of the Walkvest training system. "Trails provide a softer surface and environmental stimuli so workouts stay interesting. Sand walking is strenuous, providing maximum cardio building and toning benefits." (Sand walking does involve constant shifting, which can be hard on sore backs.) Street surfaces allow you to walk faster, but lights, curbs, and traffic make it difficult to walk unimpeded for long periods. To lessen the street's hard impact, Rocker suggests visualizing your legs as shock absorbers.