How to Turn Your Daily Walk into a High Intensity Exercise
By Dr. Mercola
High intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be one of the best forms of exercise in terms of both effectiveness and efficiency. In fact, the evidence shows that by focusing on endurance-type exercises, such as jogging on a treadmill, you actually forgo many of the most profound benefits of exercise.
The problem is that many are so out of shape and/or overweight, the idea of high intensity interval exercises can seem too daunting to even attempt. The elderly may also shy away from high intensity exercises, for fear of injuring themselves.
For those of you who are aware of the benefits of HIIT but haven’t been able to implement it for one reason or another, findings from a Japanese study may offer hope. Walking tends to be among the easiest exercises to perform, no matter what your age or fitness level, and walking can also be turned into an effective high intensity exercise.
The Benefits of a High Intensity Walking Program
For the last decade, Dr. Hiroshi Nose and colleagues at the Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine in Matsumoto, Japan, have developed walking programs for the elderly.
In light of the benefits associated with HIIT, Dr. Nose created a regimen of fast walking and gentle strolling, to see if this kind of program might provide greater fitness benefits than walking at a steady pace.
The program consisted of repeated intervals of three minutes of fast walking, aiming for an exertion level of about six or seven on a scale of one to 10, followed by three minutes of slow strolling. The results turned out to be very promising. As reported by the New York Times:1
“In their original experiment, the results of which were published in 2007, walkers between the ages of 44 and 78 completed five sets of intervals, for a total of 30 minutes of walking at least three times a week.
A separate group of older volunteers walked at a continuous, moderate pace, equivalent to about a 4 on the same exertion scale.
After five months, the fitness and health of the older, moderate group had barely improved. The interval walkers, however, significantly improved aerobic fitness, leg strength and blood-pressure readings.”
In December 2014, the team published a follow-up report2 on the participants in this earlier research, noting that 70 percent of the participants were still adhering to the walking program two years after the study ended, and the health benefits remained stable.
Everyone Can Benefit from Walking More Each Day
This strategy can be an excellent entry into higher intensity training, regardless of your age and fitness level. The Japanese researchers recommend doing this “moderately-intense” interval walking for about 10 minutes three times a day, three days per week.
As you’ve probably heard by now, chronic sitting is the new smoking, raising your risk of an early death from poor health independently of your fitness and other lifestyle habits.
In fact, the medical literature now contains over 10,000 studies showing that frequent, prolonged sitting—at work, commuting, and watching TV at night—significantly impacts your cardiovascular and metabolic function.
According to Dr. James Levine, co-director of Obesity Solutions at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix and Arizona State University, you need at least 10 minutes of movement for every hour you sit down.
My personal recommendation is to limit sitting to less than three hours a day, and to make it a point to walk more every day. I suggest aiming for 7,000 to 10,000 steps per day, and a fitness tracker can be a very helpful tool to monitor your progress and ensure you’re hitting your mark.
Keep in mind that this walking is in addition to your regular fitness regimen, not in lieu of it. Tracking your steps can also show you how simple and seemingly minor changes to the way you move around at work can add up. For example, you can:
Walk across the hall to talk to a coworker instead of sending an email
Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Park your car further away from the entrance
Take a longer, roundabout way to your desk
If you’ve taken such advice to heart and are getting more walking into your day, consider switching up the pace at regular intervals as suggested in the featured study, interspersing bouts of speed walking followed by more casual strolling.
In study after study we find that it is this intermittent high and low intensity that appears to produce the most significant results. So simply by exerting yourself intermittently when walking, you can dramatically increase the return of your effort without spending any extra time on it.
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