You may think you're an expert at walking — after all, you've been doing it since you were a kid. But these tips from people in-the-know can help you get more calorie-burning bang out of each step. Try them on your next stroll.
Arm yourself. Steal this simple move from Olympic race walkers: Bend your arms to 90-degree angles and swing them as you walk — almost as if you're taking something from a waist-high counter and putting it in your pocket. "Correct arm positioning plays an important role in how fast you walk, and the faster you walk, the more calories you burn," says exercise physiologist Patti Finke, walking coach for the Road Runners Club of America.
Walk a hound, lose a pound. That was the outcome (and name) of a recent study from the University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine. Study participants who volunteered to walk dogs at an animal shelter increased their weekly exercise from fewer than 3 days to 5 days and lost about 14 pounds in a year.
Create your own foot army. Exercising with a partner increases the chances that you'll stick with it. San Francisco native Lori Marshall, 44, took this concept one step further and created a rotating roster of walking friends that helped her go from a size 10 to a size 4-6. "Four years ago, I started walking by myself, but I got bored — even with an IPod," says the six-day-a-week walker. "Now, I coordinate about 20 different women through e-mail. I have one group that only walks on Saturdays, another on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a third on Wednesdays. I also have some "floaters" who can walk any day of the week." Follow Lori's lead and gather your own friends and family for weekly walking.
Mix it up. Alternating short, 2- to 3-minute stints of fast walking with medium-paced recovery periods is a great way to burn more calories without adding time to your workout, says Tracey Mallett, fitness expert and author of Sexy in 6. Try the "talk test" to judge your effort: during the short bouts of fast walking, talking should be very difficult; easier during recovery.
Walk like you're skiing. Using Nordic poles (think ski poles for spring and summer) can boost your calorie burn by up to 40 percent by forcing you to work your upper body to help propel you forward. "Using more muscles means you're burning more calories," says Mark Fenton, author of The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss and Fitness. If you get funny looks, you can always say you're in off-season training for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. For Nordic walking, try the lightweight Leki Instructor poles ($149.95; www.leki.com for stores).
Push some weight around. A recent study found that women who pushed strollers loaded with 35 pounds burned 18% to 20% more calories than when they walked without. For the average woman, that equals burning 375-440 calories per hour (up to about 90 calories more than normal). That¨Ìs got those of us without toddlers considering baby-sitting in our downtime or trying to talk our pre-teens into riding in style.
Head for the hills. Compared to walking on flat roads, hills can help you burn up to 50 percent more calories and tone your bottom half — if you can maintain your pace. "Most people slow down when they go up a hill, which can cancel out the benefit," Fenton says.
Why Walk? The beauty of walking — besides its ability to move you from Point A to Point B — is that it's one of the simplest ways to get healthy, particularly when it comes to your heart. In fact, while the famed heart-healthy Pritikin Program includes stret-ching, strength-training, and other types of aerobic exercise, "walking, especially brisk walking, is clearly the main dish," says Dr. Robert Vogel, chief medical director of the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa and author of the new book, The Pritikin Edge: 10 Essential Ingredients for a Long and Healthy Life. "Three- to four-month walking studies have shown significant weight and waist loss and improved blood pressure and cholesterol with walking 3-5 times per week." Not only does walking lower your numbers, it gives you a lift, too. "It releases endorphins, which make you happier," Vogel says. "Don't underestimate the power of walking."