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If a walk is already a part of your daily fitness regimen, good for you. It’s one of the simplest, low-impact ways to sneak in steps and elevate your heart rate without putting too much stress on your joints.
“Walking helps strengthen your bones and muscles and improves your balance and coordination,” says Steve Hruby, DC, doctor of chiropractic and founder at Kaizen Progressive Health in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It’s also a great way to get some fresh air and sunshine, which can improve your mood and overall sense of well-being.”
Walking outside, as opposed to indoors on a treadmill, can give you a dose of vitamin D in the form of sunshine, which is hugely important seeing as an estimated 40 percent of Americans are deficient in this vital nutrient, per research published in the medical journal Cureus. Having adequate levels of vitamin D in your body helps reduce your risk of a number of diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease as well as breast, prostate and colorectal cancer, according to research published in Aging and Disease.
Walking outdoors is not only good for your body, but also your mind. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition found that walking in general increased creative thinking in participants, and the effects were even more established for those who walked outside. Another study, published in the journal Health Promotion Perspectives, found that walking outside increased mindfulness in young adults.
“Mindful walking is a great practice for mental health and involves not only being nonjudgmentally aware of your body, your thoughts and emotions but also your external environment,” says Jordan Duncan, DC, chiropractor at Silverdale Sport & Spine in Washington. “This can include feeling the wind on your face, [hearing] the birds chirping or smelling fresh cut grass.”
If you’re someone looking to amp up your fitness, walking might seem relatively mundane. However, there are several ways to take your outdoor walk to the next level. Here are five tips for leveling up your walking routine.
1. Dress the part.
It might sound simple, but one of the most effective ways to take your outdoor walks up a notch, and even make them feel more like a workout, is to dress like you’re going to the gym. If you’re walking every day in the same clothes you’re wearing to work, you’ll be more likely to take things slow, not only because that’s likely the pace you’re moving throughout the office but also because you’re not properly dressed for exercise, Duncan notes. If you take your walks on your lunch break, consider packing a pair of workout clothes and sneakers so you can truly play the part and take your outdoor walk to the next level.
2. Add hill intervals.
Walking uphill is an excellent way to make walking a better calorie-burning exercise, according to Duncan. “Our bodies were designed to make walking very energy-efficient, and as a result, we only burn about 100 calories per mile when walking on flat ground,” he says. “Working against gravity by walking on hilly roads or trails is less efficient for the body, which creates a much better workout.”
3. Grab a pair of hand weights.
Hand weights can make a simple addition that can help take your outdoor walks to the next level. Not only does incorporating hand weights help you burn more calories, according to Duncan, but it also can help encourage better balance.
A great alternative to hand weights, if you don’t feel like carrying anything, is to wear a weighted backpack because this also can allow you to burn more calories when walking.
“The added load on the body will create an increased demand of the muscular system and can greatly increase the energy expenditure while walking,” Duncan says. One more option is wrist and ankle weights, which slip on comfortably and add a little extra resistance with each step and swing of your arms.
4. Try HIIT speed walks.
Another great way to level up your outdoor walking is to complete higher-intensity speed walk intervals, Duncan suggests. “If you are walking in a neighborhood with blocks, alternate normal walking for one block followed by a firm speed walk for the next,” he says. “This will help improve your cardiovascular endurance.”
5. Walk backward.
Sure, onlookers might question what exactly it is you’re trying to accomplish, but walking backward has plenty of physical benefits. “Walking backward burns calories and helps target muscles in different ways,” Duncan explains. “It also prevents you from relying on the unique ability of the body to store and release energy to the degree that you would when walking forward.”
It’s important to mention that you need to be even more aware of your surroundings when walking backward, so this may be best performed on a walking track rather than on the sidewalk.