Walking is a form of aerobic exercise that is safe and easy for most people to do indoors or outdoors. One way to increase workout intensity is by adding extra weight to your regular walking routine. Whether your routine includes a leisurely walk (approximately 2 mph) or brisk walking (about 3.5 to 4 mph), the addition of wrist or hand weights will give your upper body a more effective workout while increasing the number of calories burned. This is a very versatile activity, because the amount of weight and arm movements can be adjusted to meet anyone's specific energy and fitness level.
Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise, states that research is consistent in finding that the use of 1- to 3-pound hand or wrist weights can increase your heart rate by five to 10 beats per minute and your caloric expenditure and oxygen intake by 5 to 15 percent, as compared to not using weights. The increased calorie expenditure is probably due to the fact that walkers holding weights tend to swing their arms more.
Strength and Endurance
Regular walking, without added weights, provides a good lower body workout. However, walking with hand weights improves the muscular strength and endurance of both the lower and upper body. Increased muscle benefits can be derived from simply carrying the hand weights or by performing some resistance moves while walking. The extra weight, along with deliberate arm movements, will force your muscles to work harder for a great cardiovascular exercise.
Health Benefits of Walking
An article in "Harvard Men's Health Watch" reported on a 2008 meta-analysis in which researchers analyzed the results of 18 studies that focused on the connection between walking and cardiovascular health. According to the study, walking can have a positive impact on several cardiac risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and mental stress, and reduces the risk of cardiac events by 31 percent. Another study, reported in 2004 in the "American Journal of Preventive Medicine," found a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease from walking as little as one hour per week.
Wear comfortable, lightweight shoes that are flexible. Avoid wearing shoes that don't bend. When walking with hand weights, start out using 1-pound weights and gradually increase the weight amount. Use a pedometer to keep track of the distance you walk. Start out slowly and work up to the recommended number of 10,000 steps daily. Add interval training to vary your routine. Walk up and down hills, increase your pace and walk up and down steps to burn more calories and build strength and stamina. Swing your arms more for added resistance. Walk as much as possible. Always warm up before performing any physical activity, and stretch afterward.
Risks and Warnings
Do not use weights if you have high blood pressure or any form of heart disease. Take short, fast steps instead of lengthening your stride, which might increase the strain on your legs and feet. Some modifications may be needed if you suffer from joint pain or are recovering from an injury. Other risks involved with walking with hand weights include bursitis or tendinitis of the arms, elbow, knees, shoulders or wrists from overuse. If you walk outdoors, some environmental risks include dehydration, overexposure to the sun, heat stroke, traffic hazards and unsafe walking conditions due to poor weather. Too much weight may put unnecessary stress on shoulder and arm muscles along with elbow and wrist joints. Hand weights, like any other weights, should be used with caution. If used inappropriately, they may change or interfere with your arm swing, which could lead to injury or muscle soreness.
- American Council on Exercise: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks if Individuals Hold Dumbbells in Their Hands While Doing Step Aerobics or Other Cardio Activities?
- Berkeley University of California: A Dozen Ways to Improve Your Walking Workouts
- Harvard Men's Health Watch: Walking: Your Steps to Health
- American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Physical Activity Decreases Cardiovascular Risk in Women
Patti Davis has been a certified dietary manager since 2000 and has worked as a health and fitness writer since 2010. Her articles have been published on The Nest and various other websites. Passionate about health, nutrition, weight loss and fitness, Davis enjoys providing individuals with accurate information so they can make informed decisions about their lifestyle habits.