Can you get fit just from walking?

Kristoph Thompson, personal trainer
Friday, February 4, 2011
Image: Getty

Walking is one of the easiest ways to get your body moving. It offers great physical benefits, such as increased fitness and improved muscle tone.

Walking also builds bone density, reducing our risk of diseases like osteoporosis — and it's completely free — all you need is some suitable footwear and you're ready to go!

Walking is simple but it's a really versatile form of exercise. Use it as a mode of transport — to or from work, for example — for keeping fit and healthy, or even just for fun! Experts recommend 30 minutes of daily exercise and we should all be able to reach this with walking alone.

Taking an extra 1,000 steps a day could burn an extra 2,000 kilojoules a week, all from a walk around the park in your lunch hour. Walking at any speed burns kJ but if you want to use it to improve your fitness and tone your body, you'll need to increase the intensity. As a rule of thumb for your workout to be effective you should feel out of breath for around 80 percent of the duration. As well as increasing the speed, add in hills or steps to get you working harder and achieving results.

Add an extra dimension

Set targets Keep track of your progress with a pedometer and aim to increase the number of steps you take or the distance you cover each time you go for a walk.

Super shoes Experts say walking in MBT trainers 20 minutes a day will improve your posture. The curved sole distributes pressure evenly across the foot, which reduces stress on the hips and knees. It also creates an instability that makes the body engage muscles it doesn't normally use, which really tones the thighs and bottom and burns extra kJ.

Get technical The Treadclimber is a cross between a treadmill, cross trainer and stepper. It's great for walking because a session burns up to twice as many kJ as the equivalent speed on a treadmill. It also brings more muscles into play, so you work harder but with less effort.

Use your upper body Using your upper body while you walk means you get a whole body workout and burn up to 50 percent more kJ. Hold a 1 or 2kg dumbbell in each hand and focus on pushing your elbows back behind you as you walk. You could also try Nordic Walking, which uses poles to work the body from top to toe.

Notch up extra steps!

When you're out shopping, why not try taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator? If you can't manage without your car or public transport, try parking a bit further away, or getting off one stop early. If you work in an office, use the toilets on a different floor to your own. When talking on the phone, get up and walk around— you'll be surprised how many steps you can take in just a few minutes.

Whatever you do during the day, take a 10 minute walk around the block after lunch. This will not only bag you extra steps but will help increase your energy levels throughout the afternoon.

Power walking is a great way to work up a sweat while adding to your total daily steps. You should be able to notch up 1,000 steps in 8-10 minutes.

Walking Clubs and Events

  • Walking clubs Groups like Walking With Attitude, offer interactive walking programs to get the most from pounding the pavement. Also, each state has its own bushwalking club who organise day walks and longer walking events in your nearby area.
  • Walking holidays Family-run company Auswalk organises guided and self-guided walking holidays around Australia. Their routes take in everything from mountains, beaches and national parks to wildlife and Aboriginal culture.
  • Walking events Annual charity walks like the Dove Pink Star walk allow you to dress up in as much pink as you can find and raise money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation while keeping fit with friends.

Hiking Essentials

If you're going on a long walk, make sure you're fully prepared.

  • iPod or MP3 player loaded it with your favourite tunes. Studies show that listening to music while exercising can help us to train harder and longer.
  • Band-aids. Always handy to have, these little lifesavers can make all this difference when it's a choice between stopping or going the distance.
  • Water. Walking dehydrates you as much as any other form of exercise so keep drinking throughout your walk.
  • Rain coat. A light, breathable rain coat will save you from spending the day soggy and can double as an extra layer if the weather turns cool.
  • The map. Plan your route in advance so you know exactly how much distance you have to cover and to prevent yourself getting lost.

Brought to you by Slimming & Health magazine.

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