Walking is often considered more of a leisure activity than a real form of exercise, but walking can in fact be a calorie-burning, cardio-pumping workout. While leisure walking is ideal as you start a fitness regimen and for stress relief, to reap the maximum health benefits, try mastering a more intense walking style such as treadmill walking, power walking and race walking. The key is learning how to measure the intensity of your walking.
Hello Heart Rate
In order to determine just how hard you are working out by walking, you need to track your heart rate. A simple heart rate monitor can be purchased at your local sporting goods store. According to ClevelandClinic.org, the normal heart rate for an adult is 60 to 100 beats per minute. Your maximum heart rate is computed with a simple formula: 220 minus your age equals predicted maximum heart rate. While walking, the closer your heart rate is to your maximum heart rate, the more intense the workout.
In the Zone
Measure your heart rate at the beginning of your walk and continue to do so periodically during your walk. Measure your heart rate halfway through your walk for your peak reading. When beginning a walking routine, aim for your heart-healthy zone, which is 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. For optimal fitness benefits, strive to exercise in your target heart zone, which is 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.
In addition to heart rate, it's important to record your perceived exertion. Again, there is a simple formula to use called the Rated Perceived Exertion Scale. According to ClevelandClinic.org, this scale measures exercise intensity, with zero being no exertion and 10 being very, very heavy exertion.
The American Heart Association offers RPE guidelines for walkers. An easy stroll rates a 2 or 3 on the RPE scale, while a brisk walk equates to 3 or 4. Power walking registers at 4 or 5 on the RPE scale, and speed walking earns you a 5 or 6. Race walking will push you to the maximum end of the RPE scale. You may incorporate multiple walking styles during your workout.
Don’t Overdo It
Before you start measuring anything, talk to your doctor if you are just beginning your walking regimen. While it is tempting to push yourself at the beginning of a new fitness program, doing so increases your risk of injury. Remember that it’s just fine to be slow and steady at first. Over time, you will find yourself hitting your target heart rate and exertion levels and feeling great.
Joy Johnston has been an online journalist since 2005. She has served as senior producer for the health news website Sharecare and as a digital producer for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," where she helped develop the health channel. Johnston has also covered ways to stay fit in Atlanta.