It's something you do every day without thinking about it -- and that's precisely the problem. Most people don't give walking as a form of exercise the credit it deserves. But "with the right techniques, you can experience a cardio workout that's as effective as such high-impact exercises as running or aerobics," says Toronto-based walking coach Lee Scott.
Science backs him up: Research indicates that striding regularly can help shrink your waistline, lower your blood pressure, protect against heart disease, and even reduce your risk of diabetes and some cancers. Plus, say experts, even a quick walk can boost your mood and energy levels.
Whether you're on a short break or a full lunch hour, there's always time for a workout. Scott has devised three plans to help you burn fat, relax, and tone up. Just put one foot in front of the other ...
Walk This Way
Proper posture can help you walk faster and burn more calories while reducing your risk of injury. When you stand tall, your muscles move through a greater range of motion for a more powerful stride.
Whatever your time (or commitment level), we've got a "walkout" for you.
15-Minute Stress Buster
Coordinate your breathing with your strides to feel more centered.
Stand with hands on waist and slowly breathe in and out through your nose 12 times. Feel your belly expand and contract.
Extend arms in front of you, parallel to the ground, with palms touching. As you inhale, pull arms out to sides and open your chest. Close your arms as you slowly exhale. Repeat for about 12 breaths.
Begin walking slowly, inhaling for 2 steps and exhaling for 2 steps, swinging arms at sides. After a minute, increase to 4 steps per inhale and exhale. After another minute, bump it up to 6 steps each.
Keep up the pace, but instead of swinging your arms while you walk, open and close them as you did during Minute 1. Inhale for 6 steps and exhale for 6 steps.
Bend arms to 90 degrees and crank up the speed until you need to breathe out of your nose and mouth. Maintain this pace.
Slow down so you can do nose-only breathing. Inhale for 4 steps and exhale for 4 steps, opening and closing arms as above.
Stop, stand still, and breathe as you did at the beginning.
30-Minute Fat Blaster
Short bursts of fast walking crank up your calorie burn.
Walk at an easy pace.
Increase to a brisk pace (as if you're late for an appointment). A good litmus test: You should be breathing hard enough that it's difficult to talk in complete sentences.
Do 30:60 intervals (you'll need a watch for this routine; one with an interval timer set to 30 seconds is ideal): Walk as quickly as you can for 30 seconds and count the number of steps you take. Slow to a brisk pace for 60 seconds to recover. Do 4 times, aiming to increase the number of steps you take during each "sprint." (Remember this number.)
Do 30:30 intervals: Go as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Slow to a brisk pace for a 30-second recovery. Do 6 times, maintaining your highest step count from the previous intervals.
Do 60:60 intervals: Alternate 60-second "sprints" with 60 seconds of recovery. Do 3 times, shooting to log double the number of steps in each fast interval that you did during 30:30 intervals.
Cool down by walking at an easy pace.
60-Minute Body Firmer
Turn it into a total-body workout. Add these drills to your walk.
Warm up by walking at an easy pace.
Increase to a brisk pace (as if you're hustling to an appointment). You should be breathing hard enough that you can't talk in complete sentences.
Sculpt your butt: As each heel lands, squeeze your glutes to help pull your body forward. Do this for 2 minutes as you walk briskly, then relax for a minute, striding normally at an easy pace. Repeat this cycle 3 times (so you're working your glutes a total of 4 times).
Tone your tummy: Pull your belly button back toward your spine and hold it there, engaging your abdominals. Then feel your core muscles pulling each hip back behind you as you step forward with the opposite leg. Keep this up for 2 minutes as you walk briskly, then relax your core for a minute, walking at an easy pace. Repeat this sequence 3 more times.
Shape your back: Contract the muscles around your shoulder blades to pull your arms back as you swing them. Do this for 2 minutes as you walk briskly, then relax for a minute, striding at an easy pace. Repeat this cycle 3 more times. 12 minutes Put it all together: Do 2 minutes of butt sculpting, followed by 1 minute of easy walking; 2 minutes of tummy toning, followed by another minute of easy walking; and 2 minutes of back shaping, followed by a minute of easy walking. Then engage your butt, your stomach, and your back and try all the toners at once for 2 minutes, followed by 1 minute of easy walking.
Cool down by walking at an easy pace.
Be a Shoe-In
The wrong footwear can throw off alignment, raising your risk of injury. To find the right pair:
Visit a Specialty Store
You'll likely receive more expert advice here than at a big-chain sports retailer.
Pick Walking or Running Shoes
Unlike tennies and cross-trainers, they're designed for forward motion.
Leave a Little Wiggle Room
Feet swell during workouts, so buy a pair with 1/2 inch of space between your toes and the front of the shoe.