Winter is a time when many people tend to skip their regular workouts, whether it’s because of the busy holidays, colder weather, or shorter days. Imagine yourself in early Spring, perhaps putting on your shorts for the first time in the new year, stepping on the scale, and learning that you have successfully maintained your weight, or even lost weight. You are smiling. This is the power of regular walking.
Walking is a natural activity and easy to do anywhere. Even if your regular workouts consist of other activities, walking is a great way to stay in shape through the busiest times of your life. Here are five great walking workouts to try this winter.
- Try what I call “urban hiking.” This is great to do in a building with staircases at both ends of the hallways, including hotels if you happen to be traveling. Walk up two or three flights of stairs (or just one, if you are starting out). Then briskly walk down the hallway to the other staircase. Walk up a few more flights, walk down the hallway, and continue this until you get to the top floor. Then walk down the stairs to the bottom floor. Repeat this pattern until you have completed 15-30 minutes. As your fitness improves, you can increase the number of stairs you climb during the intervals, getting fitter and stronger with each workout. Be prepared as your calves may become sore as you familiarize yourself with this activity. Enjoy the results.
- Consider indoor mall walking during non-busy mall hours. Mall walking works great when it’s raining, snowing, or when outdoor exercise is not optimal (cold weather, wind, air pollution, etc.). Skip the shopping or do it after you have finished your walking workout. Look for opportunities to walk up and down the stairs that connect the levels. Avoid the food court completely!
- Add short after-meal walks. Since your body needs energy for optimal digestion, maintain a low to moderate-intensity (somewhere between strolling and a brisk pace). Not only can a post-meal walk lower blood sugar, but it can prevent you from just sitting around, especially after dinner. One study (that was repeated twice) showed that a 30-minute brisk walk within an hour after a meal resulted in an average of six pounds lost (those who strolled lost an average of three pounds) over a one-month period.
- Walk outdoors. This can be around your neighborhood, at a park, beach, boardwalk or high school track. If you are exercising in cold weather, be sure to dress with enough layers made of moisture-wicking fabrics to keep your body at a healthy temperature. Here are some good reasons for a colder-weather outdoor walk:
- More calories are burned as the body works harder to regulate its core temperature.
- You will strengthen your heart since it needs to work harder to distribute blood throughout the body.
- If it’s a nice day, you can get a dose of vitamin D by exposing your face or arms to sunshine (cover up or apply sunscreen after 15 minutes).
- It is likely you will feel happier and energized as the body works harder to stay warm, which releases more endorphins than an indoor workout.
- Cold temperatures help your body burn brown fat, the type of fat that increases metabolism.
- Add variety to a typical treadmill walk. If you exercise at a local gym or have a treadmill at home, take some time to learn the features. At a gym, ask to be shown how to use the many different programs that are available on the treadmills. Most have manual training, interval training, heart-rate-paced workouts, hill and hiking workouts, or run-walk programs. This is a great way to add variety to your indoor workouts and help you stay motivated.
Be sure to include a five-minute warm-up before each walk. During this period, your first few steps trigger the release of energy-producing chemicals to fuel your walk. Your heart rate increases gradually to boost blood flow and warm muscles. Your joints release lubricating fluid to help you move more easily. As you gradually begin to walk faster, your body begins burning more calories and starts pulling fuel for your workout from its carbohydrate and fat stores. At five minutes, your body is ready to move from the warm-up into the main part of your workout.
At the end of your workout, walk at a slower pace and finish with a few simple stretches.
- Drop one heel off a curb, step, or the side of a treadmill to stretch your calves.
- Rotate your ankles in both directions.
- Roll your shoulders upward and backward to release neck tension.
Maintain good posture when walking. Good posture can help you walk faster, burn more calories, and tone muscles. Focus on one or two of these techniques every few days to perfect your walking posture:
- Walk tall and elongate your body.
- Keep your head up and eyes forward.
- Maintain relaxed shoulders and a straight back.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles.
- Keep your arms low and slightly bent.
- Maintain heel-arch-ball-toe foot action (or heel to toe push-off) with each step.
Consider tracking your steps with a pedometer to help maintain motivation. Select a pedometer that fits well with your lifestyle and set a weekly or daily goal for steps. If you are short of your goal at the end of the day, simply turn on some good music and dance around the house until you reach your step goal. Not only with all this help prevent winter weight gain, it will likely improve your mood and energy.
Hippocrates, who is often referred to as the “Father of Western Medicine,” said long ago, “walking is the best medicine.” Remember this as a timeless prescription for well-being and longevity.
Check out my book, Cruising for Fitness or Finish Lines, for more information about walking and running (hint: it’s ideal for non-exercisers).