It seems walking is viewed as running’s less ‘cool’ cousin. You rarely see people bragging about their walking prowess on social media (evidently “Just finished a 5km walk, feeling the burn!!!” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it), and it tends to be reserved for those lazy/hungover/recovery days where a spin class is out of the question.
However, a new study has thrown some shade at anyone who reckons walking isn’t effective exercise — and it seems taking your stroll to the next level is actually really easy. Ridiculously easy, in fact.
Researchers from Ohio State University found that by mixing up their walking speed, male and female subjects increased their metabolic rate and burned calories by around 20 per cent more than they did when maintaining a steady pace.
Evidently, the simple act of speeding up or slowing down was enough to burn extra energy. That might seem obvious, but this study was one of the first to examine how altering walking speed affects metabolic rate, so it’s quite a significant finding.
“Measuring the metabolic cost of changing speeds is very important because people don’t live their lives on treadmills and do not walk at constant speeds. We found that changing speeds can increase the cost of walking substantially,” explained the study's co-author Manoj Srinivasan.
So, in reality, we could be underestimating how many calories we burn just through incidental walking — and not taking into consideration the extra energy used up each time we start, stop, and change our walking speed. The research team say this could account for up to eight per cent of the energy used up by our normal daily wanderings.
What athletes we are!
Obviously, the act of changing your walking speed isn't a difficult one, but that doesn't mean you have to go about it in a straightforward way. (Post continues after gallery.)
If you want to start walking in a way that burns more calories, Srinivasan has a few suggestions.
“Just do weird things. Walk with a backpack, walk with weights on your legs. Walk for a while, then stop and repeat that. Walk in a curve as opposed to a straight line,” he says.
Regardless of whether you're walking for exercise, fun, or just to get from A to B, personal trainer Laura Moore says there are plenty of ways to consciously vary your pace.
If you favour a more structured approach, for instance, you can keep an eye on your watch and speed up or down every 30 seconds or every minute.
"That's a good way to see if you're getting fitter because you can increase the time you go quicker for and decrease your slower time as you get more fit," Moore adds. (Post continues after video.)
Forgot your watch? You can also use your physical surroundings as a guide. "It you're walking along a street, every time you see a red car, for example, you speed up. If you're walking in a park, between each tree or two trees you can change your pace," Moore says.
Some people might prefer to turn the whole thing into a game. If you're walking with a friend, Moore suggests asking each other questions, and whoever gets the answer right or wrong has to change the pace of your walk.
Or, if you're flying solo and listening to music, try to match your pace to the tempo of each song.
However you choose to go about it, be mindful that to get the most out of a walk, fitness-wise, it should probably last a little longer than a leisurely stroll to your neighbourhood cafe.
"I think you need to go for around 45 minutes minimum, so you're in that fat burning 'zone' for a sustained amount of time," Moore says.
"I think the speeding up and slowing down principle is great. It's like a lower form of interval training, and if you challenge the body then the muscles willl work in different ways, and when the muscles are working more they're going to consume more energy."
Do you ever go for walks? Will you be embracing the changing pace approach?