Admit it: You’re stuck in a walking rut. You walk the same route, at the same pace, listening to the same playlist, week after week.
While a routine walk is better than no walk at all, research shows there are benefits to changing things up. Here are four walks you should try:
1. A BRISK WALK
When it comes to weight loss, nothing beats a brisk walk.
Researchers found that walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes, five days per week was more effective than running and swimming for dropping pounds. Research shows a brisk walk is on par with running for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and reducing the risk of diabetes.
A brisk pace should get your heart pumping and leave you a little breathless (but not gasping for air), according to Erin Oprea, USANA Fitness Ambassador and celebrity personal trainer whose clients include Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini.
“If you aren’t having to put effort into the walk then you need to pick up the pace,” Oprea says.
2. A NATURE WALK
Trading urban environs for a walk in nature could boost your mental health.
Researchers at Stanford University found that walking in a natural area like a trail in the woods or forested greenway for 90-minutes helped decrease activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that focuses on repetitive, negative emotions.
“Nature can provide soothing external stimulation,” explains Amy Combs, a psychologist in Charlotte, North Carolina. “You can focus on noticing sounds and sights of nature rather than the stimulation offered by a gym.”
The gym, says Combs, may foster an environment of competitiveness; in comparison, nature is a more calming environment that creates what she calls, “mindful exercise.”
Walking in nature also helps lower stress, according to a second study and the impacts were especially strong for those who had experienced a stressful life event like a divorce or serious illness.
While it might not always be practical to drive to a nature trail, incorporating nature walks into your fitness routine is good for your body and mind.
3. A LONG WALK
Instead of setting out to achieve a new PR, go slow — and long.
Researchers found that those who walked for four hours each day had healthier insulin levels and lower triglycerides than those who spent an hour working out hard at the gym. The reason, according to the study, is that more time spent walking equals less time spent sitting.
Oprea believes there is another benefit to longer walks, which she defines as hitting a 10,000 daily step goal in a single, five-mile walk. Long, slow walks, she says, “Are good for clearing your mind and another way of saying slow down and take in the world while still getting a bit of healthy movement.”
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4. A WALK WITH FRIENDS
A solo stroll is great for clearing your head but there are also benefits to inviting a friend to walk with you (besides burning calories while catching up).
Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed 42 studies and found that those who participated in walking groups experienced significant improvements in multiple areas of their health, including blood pressure, BMI and body fat percentages. Group walkers were also less depressed than their peers who walked alone.
“In our hectic lives, we often feel we must choose between social connection and physical health because there are only so many hours in the day,” says Combs. “By scheduling a walk with someone, you are more likely to show up because someone else is counting on you — and you may actually exercise for longer because you lose track of time or want to continue a conversation.”
Joining a walking group or scheduling regular walks with a friend is a great way to add a new dimension to your walking workout.