Interval walking is simply the process of adding short bursts of higher intensity to your walking program. The idea is to get your heart pumping harder for a few minutes and then slow your pace back down, and then repeating the process throughout your walk. Interval walking (or any kind of interval training) has many benefits.
Exercise Recommendations – how much do you actually need?
Both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that we get 150 minutes of exercise per week. That’s roughly 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. It doesn’t seem like much, does it? BUT, if you’re like me, it can be difficult to carve out 30 minutes of time within our busy schedules. I’ll admit that I’m not the most disciplined person when it comes to exercise, but a recent change in my fitness level has me re-thinking my priorities.
For years, my job had me on my feet, walking quite a bit of the time. On weekends, I would easily log over 10,000 steps just by doing my job at work. Last year, I completed a six-mile hike in the mountains at 9,000 feet elevation. It was challenging, but I did it! My brother even commented that he couldn’t believe I was in such good shape. I acted like it was no big deal with sibling rivalry and all, but that was the first testimony to my fitness level in many years.
But then, earlier this year, I took a new job that requires me to sit most of the day. In all honesty, I will admit that I’ve gained 14 pounds. A few weeks ago, I was vacationing in those same mountains and on another hike. I was embarrassed to learn just how out of shape I’ve allowed myself to become in such a short amount of time. I was having to take rest breaks pretty often and was gasping for breath when hiking uphill. Finally, I told my husband that I’d be just as happy driving through the mountains as I was hiking them, so that’s just what we did. I was pretty disgusted with myself, but managed to push the inner critic voices to the back of my head and tried not to give it much thought until I returned home.
I began to notice various fitness advertisements anytime I was online. Because I’d recently packed on 14 pounds and had a lesson in humility on the mountain, I started paying more attention to them. I can’t afford a Nordic Track, nor would it fit in my living room, so that wasn’t really an answer. I’m also not a gym rat; never have been and never will be. I wanted to find something that wouldn’t just be akin to a New Year’s resolution. I started noticing several different interval walking apps being advertised and they piqued my interest. I thought, I CAN DO THAT!
Benefits of Interval Walking
Because interval walking involves pushing you into more of an aerobic type exercise for short periods of time, the health benefits are quite amazing. For example:
- You can lose and maintain a healthy weight.
- Not only can you prevent and/or manage some health conditions, in many cases you can reverse them! This includes things such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and sometimes even diabetes.
- You can strengthen your muscles and bones.
- Your sleep will improve (over 70% of people that maintain a regular exercise regime do not have sleep problems).
- Anxiety levels will decrease.
- Your mood will improve.
All of this from walking! The idea is to do about 5 minutes of warm up walking at a steady pace that’s comfortable for you, and then push it into high gear for 3 minutes – walk faster, pump your arms, walk uphill – whatever it takes to get your heart pumping harder. Then, go back to your slower, regular pace for three minutes, and then ramp it back up again. You’ll want to repeat these cycles for the duration of your walk. Ideally, the goal should be to complete 5 different cycles during the 30-minute period.
However, if you’re like me, this might be a little too much to start with at first, and that is okay! JUST START! If you are only able to complete a few intervals of 30 seconds each, then start there and work your way up.
And here is something truly amazing and was the deciding factor for me to try this — your 30 minutes of interval walking does not have to all be done at the same time! You can split the 30 minutes up throughout the day and still reap the same benefits. In other words, you can do this for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes in the evening! This makes it so much easier to incorporate into a busy schedule. I already walk my dog every morning, so now, he and I both are interval walking! At lunch, you can walk around the parking lot, walk through your office, or even take to the stairs for 10 minutes.
There’s been a good amount of research on interval training, but I found this which is specific to interval walking. This study was originally published in the New York Times.
Dr. Hiroshi Nose at Shinshu University School of Medicine in Japan studied two different groups of men, aged 44 through 78, and their walking regimens. Half of the men walked 30 minutes per day without adding any higher intensity in their routines. The other half also walked 30 minutes per day but did incorporate the 3-minute burst cycles into their regimes.
After 5 months, the group that was walking without the higher bouts of intensity showed barely any improvement in health or overall fitness level. However, the interval walkers showed SIGNIFICANTLY improved aerobic fitness, better overall mood, increased leg strength, and improved blood pressures. What is interesting to note also is that over 70% of the interval walkers have continued their program after the study ended because they felt so much better. You can review the results in more detail here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25539937
The Mayo Clinic has also completed research on interval training with very positive results. Here’s the link for more information: https://www.mayoclinic.org/why-interval-training-may-be-the-best-workout-at-any-age/art-20342125)
10,000 steps, one foot at a time
The WHO recommends that we walk 10,000 per day for at least five days a week. They arrived at this number by assuming that walking 10,000 steps equals walking about 5 miles which takes approximately 30 minutes. A person who leads a sedentary lifestyle only walks between 1,000 and 2,500 steps per day.
It’s important to remember that you are NOT going to go from walking 1,000 steps to 10,000 overnight! First, establish your baseline, or the number of steps that you are currently walking each day. You can do this by investing in an inexpensive pedometer or by using an app on your phone which can be purchased inexpensively.
Once you establish your baseline, try adding 500 steps per day for the first week or two, and then increase another 500 steps, and so on. Depending on your fitness level, this may be too much or too little for you. Adjust accordingly. Our bodies are incredibly adaptive and as long as you get started and keep at it, you can improve! For more tips on getting started, click HERE. (link: thewalkingsite.com/beginner)
The hardest part is taking the first step and walking out the front door. Your heart is going to get stronger, you’re going to feel less stressed and more confident, you’re going to sleep better, and you’re going to improve your health significantly. These are FACTS. Just 10 minutes, three times a day, or 30 minutes at a time. Keep your routine changed up – walk with a friend, join a walking group, listen to some music, and enjoy some nature while you’re at it. Now let’s get moving and have some fun!