5 ways to turn your walk into a workout

Wondering how to up the ante so a stroll becomes a workout? Here’s how to give your walk a heart-pumping blast.

Walking has a lot going for it. It’s free, you don’t need special equipment and right now, it’s an activity we’re being encouraged to do for the sake of our physical and mental health.

In fact, a Heart Foundation poll found that 30 per cent of us are walking more than usual to get our daily dose of activity while social distancing measures are in place.

And then there’s the fact that you can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 35 per cent simply by walking 30 minutes a day.

It means walking is a great way to exercise, regardless of how fit you are – or aren’t.

“For people new to exercise, walking is ideal,” says exercise physiologist Tim Douge.

“Even for people used to doing more intense types of exercise, walking delivers health benefits, remembering that it’s doing an activity, any activity, consistently and regularly that’s the most important thing.”

But to get more bang for your buck from your daily walk, here’s how to kick things up a gear.

Go the distance

One of the easiest ways to make your walk work harder for your health is simple: Walk further.

If you usually go for a 30-minute walk, tack on another 10 minutes, or extend your usual walking route.

You don’t have to cover the extra distance in one hit, either.

A 2018 study found that while “more is better” – so walking for 60 minutes rather than doing 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day halves the risk of death – the benefit is the same regardless whether it is done all at once or accumulated throughout the day.

Pick up the pace

If it normally takes you 40 minutes to walk a certain distance, try to do it in 30 minutes. “Increasing the pace of your walk will give you more of a cardio workout,” says Tim, co-owner of Brisbane’s Studio 99 Fitness Centre.

It might help you live longer, too – research by the University of Sydney found that walking faster lowers the risk of all-cause mortality.

What’s a fast pace? Five to six kilometres an hour, depending on your fitness.

Head for the hills

“A simple, yet really effective way to increase the intensity of your walk is to add more hills or stair climbs into the mix,” says Tim.

Research and plot new routes around your neighbourhood, even if it means walking the same hills or stairs a few times.

Add in some strength and toning exercises

“You can increase the type and range of movement you do on a walk by stopping every so often and doing a few bodyweight exercises like squats and tricep dips using a park bench,” says Tim.

Head to Exercise Right and choose four or five zero-equipment exercises to incorporate into your daily walk.

Add in short jogging bursts

“Start jogging for a few seconds or minutes at a time during your walk to inject some higher intensity bursts of exercise,” says Tim.

You could use landmarks as a guide, so that you run between certain driveways or street signs, or download a running app for beginners, like C25K.

Is there a ‘best’ time to go for a walk?

While morning exercise has been linked to boosting brain health, research suggests evening workouts keep a lid on hunger levels.

And, while a 2019 study found that people who exercised before breakfast burnt more fat and lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, other research shows doing something active 30 minutes after eating is best for controlling blood sugar levels.

So, when should you go for a walk? Tim says the answer is when it suits you best.

“Regardless of what the research might say, if you’re not an early morning person, you might not enjoy walking at that time – and if you don’t enjoy something, you’re less likely to keep doing it,” he says.

“The same goes for eating before or after exercise. If having a pre-workout snack means you have the energy to keep going, then do that. Do what works best for you.”

Written by Karen Fittall.