A common sentiment today is why should we walk when there are so many other forms of exercise available. Many wrongly equate fitness with gymming or high-intensity workouts, and grossly underestimate the value of walking as an effective, fun and gratifying way to keep fit. “In reality, walking is not only an extremely effective calorie-burner, it also helps the body build lean muscle mass, leading to higher metabolism and a toned physique," says Ravi Krishnan, an entrepreneur working in the field of sports, entertainment and media, and a walking enthusiast.
According to fitness expert Mickey Mehta, there is no other form of exercise that is as adaptable and easy to follow as walking, adding that just 30 minutes of brisk walking a day can do wonders. “It controls body weight and gives definition to your calves, quads and buttocks," he says. Besides being a great cardiovascular workout, walking also improves lung capacity, strengthens the heart, and makes the skin glow due to improved blood circulation, he adds. A study by New Mexico Highlands University, presented at the APS annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2017 in Chicago in April, showed that the foot’s impact during walking sends pressure waves through the arteries that increase the supply of blood to the brain and improve brain health.
To maximize the benefits, Inderdeep Singh, sports medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Amandeep Hospital and Clinics, Amritsar, suggests power walking. “Power or brisk walking is essentially regular walking done with a greater exaggeration of the arms and stride length. It is an alternative to jogging or running that is less stressful on the joints and is effective to tone the buttocks, thighs, hips, shoulders, upper back and abs. People of all ages and fitness levels can do it safely," he says.
While the speed can vary, the goal of power walking is to keep your heart rate elevated, as you walk at a fast yet controllable speed. “We live in stressful times and tend to neglect our health. Power walking is a great way to workout that takes care of our physical and mental health, all in one go," he says.
“One of the biggest myths is that running burns more calories than walking. A power walk can burn as much, if not more calories, than a jog," says Shane Bilsborough, co-founder of employee wellness company Stepathlon Lifestyle Pvt. Ltd.
Do it right
Power walkers should use correct posture, look forward and swing the arms front to back. “Always keep your abs and buttocks tight with your back flat and pelvis tilted slightly forward; take small, fast steps and walk so that while you are breathing fast you are not out of breath," says Dr Singh.
Reebok master trainer Nisha Varma says, “Ideally, when walking, divide the session into warm-up, aerobic component and a cool down and stretch phase." First, warm up for 5-7 minutes by keeping the arms relaxed by the side of the body and walking at a slow pace. This gets the muscles, the tendons pumped up and ready for more intense exercise that follows and helps prevent injury. Next, she says, do intense walking for 30-50 minutes. Then cool down for 5-7 minutes by bringing down the pace of walking. Finally, follow through with static stretches for all the muscle groups of the lower limbs and back; hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds. Do this for another 5-10 minutes. Do this at least three-four days a week.
But walking should be more than just a “structured exercise". It should, in fact, be made part of our daily lifestyle. Bilsborough says the unfortunate part is that most of us, once we finish our day’s exercise schedule, we stop all other movement. “Instead, we must keep the movement going (get a cup of tea mid-morning, do a little walk at lunch time, and after work, walk to the train/car) and try to complete at least 10,000 steps or more every day," he says.
Here’s how you can make changes to your power-walk to get specific results.
■Burn more calories
Walk faster, increasing the pace and length of your stride and walk uphill/upstairs too in between.
“The best way to do this is to find some stairs. Walk up and down two-three times and build this to 9-10 times as you get fitter," says Bilsborough.
■Tone the stomach muscles
“While walking, work on the core by holding your breath and tensing the abs, at intervals. Also, doing sit-ups in between walking helps strengthen and tone the stomach muscles," says Krishnan.
■Calm the mind
“Ideally, early morning is the best time for a walk. Avoid crowded places with noise and traffic, and extreme heat and cold, and repeat positive affirmations, mantras, imagery or whatever else that helps you relax and boost brain power," says Varma.
“Walk with shoulders back, chest lifted, arms bent at the elbow and swinging by the side, stride firm and strong, belly tucked. This way most of the muscles are active," adds Varma.