A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Turn walking into a workout

Man checking heart rate on watch

Walking can improve stamina for physical activity, strengthen the cardiovascular system and make you feel good.

Looking to improve your heart health, increase your fitness level or shed a few pounds?

Try walking!

Walking can improve stamina for physical activity, strengthen the cardiovascular system and make you feel good, said Dr. Sanjay Kumar, a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist.

These tips can help you turn a relaxing stroll into a great workout.

Increase walking time and frequency

  • Walk for 20 minutes, three times a week if you’re just getting started. Break up your walk into 10-minute segments if you need to. Check with your doctor before starting a walking program.
  • Build up to walking 30 minutes, five times a week as your fitness level increases.

Increase intensity

  • Speed up. You can burn about 120 more calories per hour by increasing your pace by 1 mile per hour, said Aaron Homolka, a Marshfield Clinic physical therapist.
  • Check your heart rate. Calculate your age-predicted maximum heart rate, which is roughly 220 minus your age. Aim for 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, or 60 to 70 percent for heart patients. Use a heart rate monitor or check your pulse to see if you’re on target.
  • Try a talk test. If you can clearly say six to eight words, you’re walking at a good aerobic level. Increase the intensity of your walk if you can have a conversation without much effort.
  • Watch for chest pain and shortness of breath if you have heart disease. These are signals to reduce to reduce the intensity of your walk. Cardiac rehabilitation on a treadmill, monitored by a health care provider, can help heart patients begin a walking program, Kumar said. Heart patients who exercise often can return to work earlier and see significant improvements in their quality of life.

Tread on new terrain

  • “If you’re just starting out, it’s fine to be on a level surface. Later on, you’ll want to challenge yourself by looking for some hills,” Homolka said. “Off-road trails and walking on grass, dirt or sand make you use your muscles more than walking on the sidewalk.”

Add accessories

  • Walking poles engage your arms while you walk, which increases your heart rate.
  • Carry a backpack weighted with sand or water during your walk. Start with five to 10 pounds of extra weight.
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