Seven Types of Walking for Health, Fitness, and Fun
My Favourite Form of Exercise
Walking is a wonderful form of exercise and a great activity for maintaining both physical and mental health. It's also very convenient, since it can be done as part of daily activities such as travelling to and from work, going to an appointment, doing some shopping, or exercising a dog. A walking session can be easy, moderately challenging, or hard, depending on the type of walking and the terrain. Best of all, it's fun.
Walking has always been an important part of my life. When I was a child, walking was how I got to school, visited friends, and reached the library and stores. It also enabled me to explore new places and observe nature. It calmed me down when I was angry, cheered me up when I was depressed, and helped me find solutions for problems. I never thought of walking as exercise—it was just something that I did every day.
In adulthood, I continue to walk and find it just as beneficial and enjoyable as I did when I was a child. I make sure that I do more challenging types of walking as well as easier types. A major benefit of this choice is that it helps to keep both me and my dog fit.
In this article, I describe the following types of exercise:
- brisk walking
- trail walking
- power or speed walking
- hill walking
- Nordic or pole walking
- stair climbing
If you are very out of shape or overweight or if you have a health problem or an injury, make sure that you consult a doctor before you start exercising. This is especially important if you plan to do the more vigorous forms of walking. Even apparently healthy people should avoid strenuous exercise at the start of a walking program.
Walking for Physical and Mental Health
Walking is a very versatile form of exercise. A walk can be slow and gentle for beginners, the elderly, or the infirm, or it can be strenuous and aerobic for people who want a harder workout. The great thing about walking and some other types of exercise is that the benefits are not only physical but also mental. Walking can improve mood, relieve stress, and boost creativity.
Walking slowly certainly has some benefits. In order to experience the majority of the benefits offered by the activity, however, some effort must be made during a walk. People who are interested in adding variety to their workouts can choose from a variety of walking styles that increase intensity or exercise specific muscle groups.
A brisk walk can be invigorating. If you already walk to go to the store, to meet children when school ends for the day, or for some other purpose, deliberately increasing the pace could be very beneficial. While a slow walk may be good for mental health, it won't do much for physical health. There is an exception to this rule, however. If you must walk slowly due to an infirmity or because you are recovering from an illness or an injury, the journey might provide important benefits for your body. It's important that your doctor approves of the exercise and that their advice is followed.
Once your body gets used to brisk walks, you could try adding more of them. The need to get to appointments or special events could be additional chances for a fast walk. Getting off a bus or train before the usual stop or parking further away from a building than normal provides a chance for exercise. Taking a longer route than usual before meeting a child at school could also provide more exercise. Safety and/or practicality would need to be considered in these situations. Walking your dog could be another opportunity for a brisk walk, though there may have to be periodic pauses for the dog's sniff and pee breaks.
Physical activity such as walking can help improve health even without weight loss.— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Walking on sidewalks and observing the surroundings can be fun, but walking along a trail offers new opportunities for exercise and enjoyment. Trail walking on a flat surface offers many benefits. Trails often go through areas of nature such as parks or travel beside interesting places such as rivers, lakes, or the ocean. They can be found in rural areas, in suburban ones, and even in cities. They have various surfaces and are unpaved or paved. They can be very interesting places to explore. You may want to stop periodically to enjoy the scenery or to take photographs while on a trail, but a brisk walk in between these pauses could be very beneficial.
A trail can provide a long-distance walk. It's important to plan the journey carefully, to take supplies, and to think about any precautions that are needed, especially if the trail goes through isolated areas. While the flat surface may not be especially challenging, the distance may be. It may be necessary to travel along only a section of a trail.
Power or Speed Walking
Just as in childhood, I don't walk to deliberately give myself exercise. I walk for fun, to explore, to keep my dog fit, to do jobs like shopping and visiting the library, to improve my mood, and to help me think. Since I usually walk either briskly or uphill, exercise is a “side effect” of my walks. Sometimes, however, I do add activities to a walk specifically for their fitness benefits.
I find power walking, also known as speed walking, to be a good workout. This style of walking is done with bent arms, allowing the walker to move at a faster pace than walking with arms hanging at the sides. If you decide to try this style of walking, look on the Internet or in a reference book for instructions. Better yet, get personal instructions from an expert. Body form is important in power walking. Power walking strengthens the upper body, abdomen, and lower body.
I do power walking intervals in some of my regular walks. Power walking is not the same as race walking. Race walking, which is an Olympic sport, enables a walker to move as fast as some runners. I haven't tried this type of walking, but it may be an appealing form of exercise for some people.
Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking. You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.— Cindy Ross
Walking uphill and hiking are great workouts. Climbing hills raises the heart rate and is excellent exercise for the leg muscles. It's important to warm up muscles by doing gentle walking before beginning to climb, however. It's also important for beginners to rest when necessary and even to turn around and go back down a slope before reaching the summit if necessary. I find it an enjoyable challenge to go a bit further up a difficult hill each time I tackle it.
I’m lucky to live at the base of a forested hill which was left mainly untouched when the city was developed. It's easy for me to get an uphill walk and to be surrounded by nature. My dog and I love these trips. They provide great exercise for both of us and the scenery is lovely.
At the top of the hill we reach the Trans Canada Trail, which is also called "The Great Trail". The plan is to eventually make this the longest recreational trail in the world, connecting British Columbia in Western Canada to Newfoundland in Eastern Canada. Walking even a small distance along the trail is very enjoyable.
I like to go for day hikes in the nearby mountains. Hiking is a wonderful escape from the city. Despite the hard physical effort involved in climbing rough trails, I find hiking to be very relaxing mentally. It's important to note that a mountain hike in a remote area is very different from climbing a hill in an urban or suburban area. Preparation and precautions are necessary.
Food, water, extra clothing (including some that is waterproof), sunscreen, and first aid supplies should be carried on a hike. Other items may be helpful, but it's important that a backpack isn't too heavy. Hikers should do some research about the best items to take in relation to the area where they plan to travel.
Many people would probably consider a camera to be an essential item to take on a hike. The weight of the camera and any extra items needed to support it needs to be considered.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderately-intense aerobic exercise—such as brisk walking—each week.
Nordic or Pole Walking
Nordic walking is also known as pole walking or urban poling. Nordic walking (walking with special poles that somewhat resemble ski poles) appeals to me because it gives both an upper and a lower body workout at the same time. It's also a very low impact form of exercise. I have walking poles and enjoy using them. I don't use them as often as I should, though, because I usually walk with my dog.
Using poles is a great addition to a walking session. Poles are very useful for people who can't walk any faster than they already do but would like to increase the fitness value of their exercise session. Walking with poles can increase calorie burn compared to walking at the same intensity without them. It can also improve cardiovascular fitness.
Another advantage of Nordic walking is that the support provided by poles can help to compensate for lower body problems. Nordic walking probably reduces stress on lower body joints, although this needs to be demonstrated by research.
Caution is needed when purchasing walking poles. Very inexpensive ones are often quite flimsy and not very supportive. The use of the latest construction materials means that a supportive walking pole doesn't have to be heavy.
Stair climbing or climbing steps continually or repeatedly during a workout could be boring, but I enjoy doing it periodically during a walk. If I see a steps when I’m on a walk, I happily climb them. I enjoy the challenge of climbing stairs in buildings, going from floor to floor without stopping instead of using an elevator. Deliberately going up and down stairs in quick succession, though, seems like forced exercise to me. I do it occasionally but not very often. Exercise has to be fun for me.
Stair climbing is great exercise. It's a low impact exercise and increases cardiorespiratory fitness. It's more stressful for the body than walking on a flat surface, however. The intensity and duration of stair climbing sessions should be increased gradually. Incorporating mini strength workouts such as stair climbing into a regular walk is an excellent way to boost the exercise value of the walk.
During some walks I stop to do strength exercises when my dog and I find a quiet spot. I sometimes carry an exercise band on my walks. Exercise bands (or resistance bands) don't weigh much—although there are exceptions to this rule—and they can be folded up to put in a pocket or a pack. The stretchy bands can be used to do exercises that build upper body or lower body strength. They aren't essential for increasing upper body strength, however. For example, I often do push-ups during a walk when I find a suitable surface to act as a support.
Fitness and Health
Please don’t think that you have to do the more rigorous styles of walking that I have described to get any benefit from walking. Scientists have found that any form of walking has valuable health benefits. That being said, benefits will be limited without some exertion.
Regular, brisk walking on a flat and smooth surface is enough to lower the level of “bad” or LDL cholesterol in the blood, reduce the risk of a heart attack and type 2 diabetes, reduce inflammation in the body, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of some types of cancer, and improve mood.
Interval walking—alternating fast and slow intervals within the same walk—has also been found to be good exercise and may be easier for some people to do than a continuous fast walk.
Researchers say that in order to produce a significant weight loss walking has to be brisk and frequent. It's important to follow a healthy diet as well. If your goal is to do more intense walking, remember to increase the intensity gradually. Also remember that you don’t have to push yourself on every walk. I still go for slow walks sometimes.
I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.— John Muir
Walking Events and Competitions
I used to run and often trained for 10K races. Running certainly caused me to lose a lot of weight and the racing events were fun. The training was enjoyable on some days but not much fun on other days. I also developed several minor injuries, even though I was trying to follow a sensible training routine and used good running shoes. What really made me realize that running was not the ideal exercise for me was when I began to resent missing my walking days because of my running training.
I no longer run. I find that walking keeps me good shape if I do it regularly and also do enough of the more demanding forms. I still enjoy the fun of 10K events, but now I enter as a walker instead of a runner. There are running events of different lengths— including short runs and marathons—that welcome walkers. Walker-only events are held in some places.
I need to walk. It enriches my life and keeps me fit. I hope that I’ll be able to keep walking for the rest of my life, even if some day I have to do slower, easier, and shorter walks.
A Walking Poll
What is the most important role of walking in your life?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2011 Linda Crampton