Walking may seem like a mild way to get fit, but if you boost your effort you'll glisten just like your friends who pound the pavement running or shake their tail feathers in dance aerobics. Walking is easier on your joints and you can do it just about anywhere, making it nearly the perfect exercise. To make your walk workout intense enough to sizzle serious calories and build heart health, add an incline, pick up the pace or find a superchallenging terrain.
Walking on a flat road or treadmill may not be enough to get your heart pumping and breathing heavy, let alone have you break a sweat. Seek out hilly trails or press the incline button on the treadmill to make your modest pace a tail kicker. If you are unaccustomed to hills, start with modest climbs and over several weeks, seek out steeper and steeper terrain. For a treadmill, you might begin by walking up a 3 to 5 percent grade and work up to a 7 percent grade or higher.
Increasing the speed of your walk will help you break a sweat. Instead of leisurely covering ground, pump your arms and increase your leg turnover. Maintaining a race walking speed of 5 mph or greater is considered a vigorous activity by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It may take you time to work up to this pace, however, as it challenges your shins and hips. Intervals are a way to build up to a consistently faster pace. Warm up with a brisk walk and then go as fast as you can for a minute or two, then slow down to a more manageable pace for an equal period of time. Alternate the two paces for the duration of your workout. As the weeks go by, extend the length of time you are going at an intense pace and decrease your slower segments until you are just speed walking for your whole workout.
Hiking is more likely to bring out your sweat than a casual walk around your paved neighborhood. Find a rocky path that challenges you to keep your balance and pay close attention to your footing. Because hiking is harder, it burns more calories -- 223 per half hour versus the 149 burned walking at a 3.5-mph pace for a 155-pound person. Carry a pack for an even greater sweat session.
Breaking a sweat isn't always an indication of intensity. Take a slow walk during a heatwave and you may be dripping, but you may not be raising your heart rate. Some people sweat more due to genetics or fitness efficiency. In addition to your sweat rate, use your perception of exertion as a measure of how hard your walk is working you. If you feel your heart beating swiftly and are slightly breathless so that it is hard to speak in complete sentences, rest assured that you are working at an intense level even if you aren't sweating buckets.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.