Fitness hacksToday is the American Heart Association’s “National Walking Day,” and in its honor, we’re going to show you why walking is the one of the ultimate health and fitness hacks. Since Americans now spend more hours than ever sitting in front of the computer screen or TV, we’ve become less fit and at greater risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses. By integrating a simple walking program into your week, you can enjoy the bevy of benefits this easy physical activity yields.

Walking just 30 minutes per day will help you:

  • Lose pounds and maintain a healthy weight
  • Strengthen bones and muscles
  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Promote better coordination and motor skills
  • Boost your mood and enhance overall well-being
  • Reduce the risk of strokes, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other illnesses

Walking has one of the lowest rates of dropout because it’s so easy to do and feels good. It’s also a great complement to gym workouts, yoga, Pilates and other forms of exercise because it decompresses the spine. It’s a great way to clear your head, get outside and catch up with friends with similar fitness goals.

Here are the basics of an effective walking program.

Clothing and Shoes. All you need to start are comfortable clothes and shoes that provide proper support. For best results, you can go to a shoe store or to a doctor for gait analysis where the associates assess your gait and help you pick the best shoe for your foot.

Duration. Start by going short distances and work your way up to a minimum of 30 minutes each session. Once you reach your 30-minute goal, strive to reach 60 minutes per session. From there, alternate the duration each time from between 45 and 60 minutes so your body doesn’t get used to the same duration each session. At that point you can also start adding hikes to your program and speeding up your gait. Mixing it up is key. Note: If you’re at a beginning level or if 30 minutes is too much for your joints or physical level, take a few shorter 10-20 minutes walks instead of longer ones.

Fillers. In addition to your regular program, try to walk to some of your daily errands whenever possible. Even a 10-minute burst of activity will boost your health.

Technique. Make sure to take deep breaths while you’re walking, especially as you ramp up your speed. Also strive to embody good posture as you walk: pull in your core, keep your shoulders relaxed and lift your head. Your feet should land heel first with each step, roll through the foot and push off with the toes.

Speed. Over time, it’s important to pick up the pace so you can make the most out of each walk. It’s also good to incorporate intervals, where you walk briskly for one minute, at a slower pace for two minutes, and then repeat. However, don’t sacrifice your posture for faster speed.

Stretching. Just like any other exercise, your body operates optimally when you stretch. Make sure to stretch your calves, quads, hamstrings, shoulders and back after your walk.

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