While there are many aspects of heading into a gym or fitness class that you're probably missing right now (an especially motivational trainer, the social inherently social aspect, etc.), it's nice to know that you can still manage to a good workout — and still reap tons of benefits — without setting foot in a studio. What's more: Experts believe that one of the best fitness practices is one that's so simple you probably looked right over it. And while decidedly low-impact, a walking cardio workout is surprisingly effective for both getting a great exercise and easing your mind.
A common misconception, according to celebrity trainer (of Kerry Washington and Karlie Kloss) and Vionic Innovation Lab Member Juliet Kaska, is that you have to push your body to its limit — or potentially past — in order to get a good workout. "We are a society of extremes, which is as true when it comes to our workouts as it does for cars, homes, and super-sized meals," she says. "'Go big or go home' is engrained in all Americans to some degree." And while she agrees that, to some extent, having some intensity in your fitness regimen isn't necessarily a bad thing, regularly doing so can cause more harm than good.
For the aforementioned reasons, Kaska is a big fan of a walking routine — especially given the limitations for social and recreational activity right now. But she also notes that walking boasts some serious mental health benefits if you're finding yourself stressed and overwhelmed these days, and therefore it's the perfect daily self-care ritual. "I was and still am advocating for the pandemic walk for people’s mental as well as physical health," says the trainer. "As soon as this thing erupted on us people got depressed and scared by the magnitude of it. So, I sent out a message to a fitness group I run and said 'Get up! Put on your shoes and call into this number in one hour. We are going for a virtual walk together.' Everyone reported feeling immensely better right away. I have been leading these virtual 'walk and talks' twice a week since March."
And the physical benefits might be beyond what you'd expect, considering walking is pretty low intensity. "We know that exercise helps elevate mood, by producing endorphins and dopamine, [but it is] also good for muscle tone, cardiovascular strength and joint health," Kaska says. "Walking is considered a weight bearing exercise, which is the type of exercise that improves the strength and stability of our bones and helps ward off osteoporosis."
Certainly ease is one of the appeals of walking, but if you want to amp up your regimen, Kaska has some useful tips. In terms of frequency, she suggests aiming for four to six power walks per week, anywhere from 20 minutes (for beginners) to 60 minutes (for more advanced walkers) sessions. Besides that, follow her sage advice ahead for a stepped-up version of this simple — but surprisingly effective — summer workout that doesn't require much more than yourself, a reliable pair of sneakers, and an inspiring playlist to execute.
Walking Cardio Workout Tip: Squeeze Your Glutes
Don't just mindlessly walk, Kaska advises. Yes, this is an exercise for the mind, but put some intent behind the physicality by actively engaging your body — and in particular, your butt. "Practice squeezing your glutes as you walk and fire them first," she offers. "Try not to just walk forward from the thighs or hip flexors — squeeze and step."
Walking Cardio Workout Tip: Mix Up The Terrain
Switch up your location to maximize the benefits. If you normally walk on a track, try walking on grass, gravel, then on a track, or sand if you live near the beach. And try different inclines (if you're used to walking a mostly flat area), which will engage more muscles.
Walking Cardio Workout Tip: Use Your Arms
Bring your arms to the party, suggests Kaska, who recommends swinging them as you walk. "Bend your arms at 90 degrees and pump from the shoulder," she says. "Swing your right arm forward as you step forward with your left leg. Focus on keeping your wrists straight, hands relaxed, and elbows close to your sides. Arm pumping allows you to move at a quicker pace, and gives you a good workout for your upper body."
Walking Cardio Workout Tip: Wear Proper Footwear
A casual walk is one thing, but if you want to elevate your walking into a method of increasing your physical fitness, it helps to have a comfortable, supportive, and even stylish good pair of walking shoes. "They will do wonders for your posture and joints, by minimizing the impact of each step," Kaska says. "Look for lightweight flexible shoes and be sure to replace them often, especially if you’re walking every day." Her currently favorites? Vionic's latest styles, which also count celebrities like Kristin Cavallari as fans.