Walking just got more fun with six trendy variations that challenge your body and refresh your mind. If you haven't updated your walking style since you were a toddler, it might be time to try something new.
Take your mind for a walk, and reap the two-for-one benefits of meditation in motion. In mindfulness meditation, you focus your mind, fully and intently, on whatever you're experiencing from moment to moment. The idea is to take note of your experience here and now without judging or reacting to it. Applied to walking, this means noticing and accepting the sensory experience of the walk: your breath going in and out, your feet pushing against the ground, the breeze on your face, the clothes on your skin. If you're outside, you'll also benefit from becoming more mindful of the rejuvenating sights, sounds and smells of nature.
Tai Chi Walking
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese discipline that combines slow, flowing movement with a calm, alert state of mind. In tai chi walking, the aim is to improve posture, gait and balance by becoming more attuned to the act of walking. As you do so, you deliberately transfer weight from one foot to the other in a smooth, gentle, rolling motion. You also focus on aligning your posture, balancing the right and left sides of your body and engaging the core muscles of your abdomen. Mentally, heightened awareness of your actions and intentions leads to a meditative state.
Nordic walking is a form of fitness walking that utilizes poles similar to those used by cross-country skiers. Adding arm action with the poles boosts the fitness benefits of a walking workout; the American Nordic Walking Association likens it to going from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive. Compared to ordinary walking, research has shown that Nordic walking burns more calories and leads to greater improvements in endurance and coordination. Yet this form of walking has been used successfully by people with a variety of health challenges, including obesity, heart disease and Parkinson's disease.
Interval training involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with recovery periods, during which you do a less-intense version of the same activity. Applied to walking, it involves walking at a fast pace or up a steep incline during the high-intensity bursts, then walking at a more moderate clip during the recovery periods. This highly efficient approach to exercise draws on both of the body's energy-producing systems: aerobic and anaerobic. The anaerobic system, needed for short spurts of all-out effort, converts carbohydrates in the muscles into energy without the aid of oxygen. The aerobic system, needed for sustained activity, converts carbohydrates from throughout the body into energy with oxygen's help. When both systems are used, you're able to amp up your intensity but still avoid burning out too soon.
Speed walking - also called power walking - involves striding at or near your maximum speed without breaking into a jog. Typically, that's a pace of 4.5 to 5.5 mph. You swing your arms with your stride, and you keep one foot on the ground at all times. Picking up the pace burns significantly more calories than a leisurely stroll. In fact, one study found that walking at 5 mph or faster burned at least as many calories as jogging at the same pace. Yet speed walking avoids the bone-jarring impact that leads to many jogging and running injuries.
Water walking in a pool can be done standing in waist- to chest-high water, or it can be done in deep water wearing a flotation belt that holds you upright with the water at about shoulder height. Today, some gyms and rehabs centers even boast water treadmills. The buoyancy of the water supports your body, which takes stress off your joints and minimizes pain for those with conditions such as arthritis. Yet water offers 12 times the resistance of air, so pushing against it strengthens muscles while it builds cardio fitness. The deeper the water, the more strenuous the workout.
Two common myths about walking for fitness is that it's too easy or too boring. But with these variations, almost anyone can find a rewarding way to put one foot in front of the other.
Linda Wasmer Andrews writes for a living and walks for her life. She specializes in writing articles and books about health, psychology and the intersection of the two.