Body & Fitness

How to pound the pavement to long-term health

Pounding the pavement might be the secret to long-term health. But how do you do it right?
Woman power walking

Most of us do it every single day. And it’s one of the ultimate ways to stay fit and healthy without much effort – or cost. Putting one foot in front of the other really does do wonders for your wellbeing. A recent study suggests merely taking 3967 steps a day can reduce some health risks. But now power walking is in the spotlight.

New research claims that walking fast is the key to living longer – focusing on the pace and power of your steps, not just the number you rack up.

The study, published in two medical journals, found walking with intensity reduces numerous major health concerns, from dementia, heart disease and cancer to premature death. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Leicester in the UK have discovered power walkers have a life expectancy of up to 20 years longer than slow walkers. Experts also credit power walking with helping slash depression, burn calories and reduce obesity – and a brisk 10-minute daily walk can make all the difference.

Here, the experts reveal why it might be time to swap your gym session for a cheap and cheerful outdoor power walk.

What is power walking?

Unlike regular walking, power walking is all about marching with meaning. “It’s a great exercise and arguably better for you than running, thanks to reduced ground impact,” says fitness expert Simon Robinson. “It transforms your walk into a workout. The aim is to get out of breath by upping your pace and increasing your effort with arm pumping.

“As you increase your pace, you increase the intensity of the workout, turning it into a calorie-burning cardio session, but low-impact due to the heel-toe roll of the foot with every stride. A lot of people find they don’t actually have to increase their pace by as much as they think in order to feel that little bit more uncomfortable – especially when they are keeping up that new, faster pace over a long period of time.”

Warm-up exercises:

Static lunges:

Stand tall, then put your left foot behind you. Bend your left knee as low as you can, then push back up to the start position. Do 10 on this leg. Swap to the other leg and repeat.

Calf raises:

Stand tall, holding on to something for balance if needed. From here, lift your heels off the floor and roll on to the balls of your feet. Hold for a second at the top, then lower down. Repeat 20-30 times.

It’s all in the technique

Power-walking expert and personal trainer Sarah Bockhart says, “The idea is to walk faster than your usual speed, without jogging – but there are techniques to keep in mind to power walk
more efficiently.”

1. Warm up first

You must warm up before a power walk. Start with a slow walk for three to five minutes before you up your pace to increase your blood flow and invite your muscles to start working. It’s also hugely beneficial to do some stretches and warm-up moves before setting out. This not only helps prepare your body to walk more effectively, but the stretches also help prevent you from getting injured.

2. Maintain good posture

Now for the power walking. Stand tall, pull in your tummy and keep your head up rather than staring at the floor. This ensures you are in the best position to power walk effectively.

3. Use your arms

The right arm motion can help you burn five to 10 percent more calories than just leaving them hanging at your side. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and keep your elbows close to your body. From here, pump your arms straight forward, not diagonally, and making relaxed fists to maximise the movement.

4. Slide into a rhythm

You want to get into an effective rhythm with your legs and arms. Stride forward and pump your opposite arm forward at the same time, then swap. Making these limbs work together creates the ultimate technique while working multiple muscle groups.

5. Get out of breath

The aim is to be out of breath while walking. Having a full conversation should be difficult.

6. Eyes on your strides

It can be tempting to try to take giant strides as you attempt to increase your pace. Don’t, as this can put pressure on your lower back. Your back foot should be on the ground for as long as possible before pushing off, giving you a powerful stride forward, but one foot should be in contact with the floor at all times.

7. Heel-toe it out

When placing your feet down, it should be in a heel-to-toe motion. Aim for your heel to hit first, then your foot rolls through to your toe.

8. Keep your pace up

Once you find a pace that challenges, stick to it. Keeping a good pace is what’s going to get your heart rate up.

9. Don’t overthink it

You can suddenly feel like you’ve totally forgotten how to walk if you overthink it. Start by just upping your pace, then bring your arms in and increase it from there.

10. Stretch afterwards

Find five minutes to do some stretching to keep muscles limber and prevent injury. This can be after your walk or later that evening. Stretching your calves, glutes (bum muscles), quads and hips will help prevent soreness.

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