Every hour you spend walking may add 2 hours to your life, research suggests. Brisk walking can help trim your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and depression. To reap the benefits of walking and stay injury-free, try these tips.
Wear comfy, well-fitting shoes. They should be lightweight and breathable. Look for thick cushioning in the heel, good support, and flexibility. Replace them after 3 to 6 months.
Start with a warm-up. Stroll at a comfortable pace for 5 to 10 minutes. Then pick it up for the rest of your walk.
Set goals . Aim for four to six walks every week. "If you're a beginner, shoot for 20 to 30 minutes. If you're more advanced, take it up to 45- or 60-minute sessions," says Juliet Kaska, a certified personal trainer in Los Angeles. Bump it up an extra 10% each week.
Stand tall. Pay attention to your posture. Keep your head up, stomach in, and shoulders relaxed. Lift your chest and engage your abs.
Stride naturally. Point your toes and knees forward. Straighten your front leg but don't lock your knee. Try to land on your heel instead of the middle or front of your foot, then roll your weight forward. Use a natural step length and avoid over-striding.
Squeeze and tighten. Squeeze your glutes and engage your core to strengthen your muscles and cut your risk of injury. "Try not to just walk forward from the thighs or hip flexors," Kaska says. "Squeeze and step."
Swing your arms. Keep your shoulders relaxed so your arms swing freely, and so your back and neck don't tense up. Keep your arms bent. Swinging them will propel you forward and help you move faster. Don't use hand weights. They put stress on your elbows and shoulders.
Try intervals. They're great for endurance and weight loss. Speed up for a minute or 2 every 5 minutes, Kaska says. Or alternate one fast block with one or two slower blocks.
Cool down. Walk at a slower pace for 5 to 10 minutes. Then stretch your hamstrings, calves, chest, shoulders, and back.
Power Walking Tips
Want to intensify your walk? Try these tips from Kaska.
Sneak in other exercises. Midway through your walk, "stop to do some jumping jacks, a few push-ups, or dips off a park bench," she says.
Switch up the terrain. Walking on grass, gravel, or sand is a bit tougher to pull off, so you'll burn more calories.
Wear a weighted vest. But not too heavy. Kaska says it should be no more than 5% to 10% of your body weight. If you're a beginner, try a 1- to 2-pound ankle weight on each leg.
Choose hills. Walking uphill -- or dialing up your treadmill's incline -- strengthens your legs. Be careful going downhill: To ease pressure on your knees, use a slower pace, take shorter steps, and keep your knees slightly bent, Kaska says.
Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."