Adopting a daily walking habit is a great first step toward improving your overall health. You can do it anywhere, anytime, either solo, with loved ones in-person, virtually or with your four-legged friend. To turn a casual stroll into a more challenging effort, however, “you need to elevate the heart rate, which will burn more calories,” says Bill Daniels, a certified personal trainer based in California.
To take your walk to the next level and amp up the calorie burn, try these smart strategies recommended by fitness experts:
One simple way to burn more calories: Pick up the pace. You’ll go farther in the same amount of time. “Try to walk the same distance each time, but complete the walk slightly faster than the previous day,” suggests Alexander Rothstein, instructor and program coordinator of the New York Institute of Technology’s exercise science program. Not only does a brisk pace burn more calories, but research shows it also helps longevity.
Many people swear by interval walking — adding short spurts of faster exercise to a regular-paced walk. In addition to burning more calories, you’ll stay more engaged because you need to pay attention to when to speed up or slow down.
“For example, walk for 30 seconds at a faster pace, then slow down to a recovery pace for 90 seconds, and alternate back and forth,” says Dani Singer, a certified personal trainer based in Baltimore.
You can also use external cues to time your intervals instead of a watch. “If you are outdoors, try speed-walking in between every other light post, or from one street sign to the next,” says Rothstein. “You can also try to walk at the pace of an upbeat song and control your high- and low-intensity intervals by speed-walking only during the chorus.”
HIT THE STAIRS
Walking up and down steps is more challenging than walking on flat terrain since it requires different muscle groups you don’t use as often. “Walking stairs can nearly double your amount of calories burned, compared to regular, brisk walking,” says Jolene Caufield, senior advisor at Healthy Howard, a nonprofit in Columbia, Maryland, that offers health and lifestyle programs to the community. Try incorporating the stairs inside your home, or use outdoor flights in parks or the community.
SEEK OUT HILLS
Another way to escape the relative ease of walking on level ground: Walk uphill. Seek out higher elevation in your neighborhood or ramp up the incline on your treadmill. Doing so “increases the resistance of the exercise,” explains Singer. “It requires more strength in your legs, and it challenges your cardiovascular system more.”
Trekking down a hill may feel easy by comparison, but there are benefits to walking downhill, too. “It trains your body in deceleration, using different muscles and joints,” says Singer. “This is the number 1 function people lack as they age and is responsible for many falls.”
USE YOUR ARMS
Although walking mainly involves your legs, adding arm movements can add to exercise intensity and increase calorie burn. “Power walk by swinging your arms in a slightly more exaggerated manner,” says Caufield. “The force of this routine will impact the whole body, which can ultimately boost calorie burns.”
For even greater impact, swing your arms to their full height, reaching over your head. “When your arms are over your head, your heart rate will go up,” says Daniels. “You don’t need extra weights for this; just the motion of moving your arms up and down over your head will elevate your heart rate.”
Leave the sidewalk (which can be hard on your joints) behind you, and opt for walks through parks or other unpaved surfaces. “If you normally walk on concrete, try walking on grass,” says Steven Mack, a personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist based in Columbia, Missouri. “More force will be absorbed by the ground on grass. It will take more effort to maintain your normal walk times.” Surfaces such as sand (if you live near a beach) can also be a great way to add variety and an extra challenge to increase your calorie burn.
CARRY SOME WEIGHT
Increasing the total amount of weight you need to propel forward helps your body work harder. Donning a weighted vest or rucksack can increase your weight load without changing your center of gravity. “When you add weight to your body, you add more intensity to your walk and thus burn more calories,” says Daniels.
ADD BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
Whenever you’re waiting to cross a street, or during set intervals, add bodyweight exercises for an extra calorie burn. “While walking, I always incorporate lunges, squats and jumping jacks for a major burn,” says Maisha Wynn, a Chicago-based lifestyle specialist who went from a size 20 to a size 4 and has kept the weight off. “Doing it every 10 minutes will not only burn more calories but also help rev your metabolism. Try performing each exercise for 30 seconds without stopping.”
Originally published November 2015, updated with additional reporting.
To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity.