Crunched for time? In­ter­vals the way to go

Adding bursts of speed to walk­ing work­outs can give you pos­i­tive ben­e­fits in less time

Windsor Star - - YOU - JILL BARKER

It’s cheap, good for your health and easy to do, but just how fit do you get from your weekly walks around the neigh­bour­hood?

Gen­er­ally, im­prov­ing your fit­ness level re­quires a work­out in­tense enough to make your heart and lungs work harder. So if your walk is more of a stroll, chances are your car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem isn’t be­ing chal­lenged enough to be­come stronger and more ef­fi­cient.

This doesn’t mean your walk is for naught. Walk­ers tend to go for dis­tance rather than speed, which is ex­er­cise enough to im­prove health. Study after study has proven that walk­ing re­duces many of the risk fac­tors re­lated to car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease like high blood pres­sure, Type 2 di­a­betes and stress, as well as re­duc­ing the risk of de­vel­op­ing sev­eral types of cancer.

In a time-crunched world, though, it would be great if walk­ers could reap those ben­e­fits plus im­prove their fit­ness in less time.

Look­ing to cre­ate a walk­ing pro­gram with all the value of walk­ing, but with more bang for the buck, a Ja­panese re­search team de­vised an in­ter­val work­out that takes half the time of tra­di­tional walk­ing pro­grams. It’s com­posed of five sets of three-minute bouts of low­in­ten­sity walk­ing fol­lowed by three min­utes of high-in­ten­sity walk­ing (per­formed at an ef­fort of at least seven on a scale of 10) for a min­i­mum of four days per week. The to­tal work­out lasts about 30 min­utes — half of which is per­formed at a high­in­ten­sity level.

The work­out, which they tested on 6,400 sub­jects, in­creased peak aer­o­bic ca­pac­ity by about 10 per cent after five months and in­creased leg strength by about the same per­cent­age. Blood pres­sure also im­proved.

In con­trast, walk­ers who main­tained a lower-in­ten­sity walk (five on a scale of 10) for 60 min­utes four days per week for five months experienced im­prove­ments to their fit­ness level that were only slightly higher than the con­trol group, who were seden­tary over the same pe­riod.

The find­ings have been sub­stan­ti­ated by other stud­ies that fol­lowed the same in­ter­val walk­ing rou­tine with some see­ing in­creases in aer­o­bic power by as much as 27 per cent, as well as im­proved blood pres­sure and blood glu­cose lev­els. For those with knee prob­lems, the pro­gram also proved ef­fec­tive when per­formed in the water.

Ad­mit­tedly, the sub­jects in­volved in all th­ese stud­ies were mid­dle-aged or older and not phys­i­cally ac­tive, which means there’s lit­tle data on how well this par­tic­u­lar in­ter­val pro­gram would work for a younger and fit­ter pop­u­la­tion. How­ever, with more and more stud­ies de­mon­strat­ing the ben­e­fits of HIIT (high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing), it’s likely the ben­e­fits of pick­ing up your walk­ing pace aren’t age sen­si­tive.

But the good news isn’t just in the re­sults. The fact that fit­ness and health ben­e­fits can be re­al­ized by walk­ing for just 30 min­utes is cause for cel­e­bra­tion for busy peo­ple look­ing to ex­er­cise. The pro­gram also dis­cards a pop­u­lar no­tion that 10,000 steps a day is the only goal walk­ers should strive to achieve.

But be­fore you cel­e­brate too hard, keep in mind an in­ter­val walk­ing work­out is vastly dif­fer­ent from the work­out you’re likely do­ing now. In fact, it’s sim­i­lar to the type of in­ter­vals favoured by runners — and just like runners, the only way you can re­al­ize your goal is to pick up the pace.

How fast do you need to walk dur­ing the three-minute speed in­ter­vals? Bar­ring the use of an ex­er­cise app that al­lows you to eas­ily mon­i­tor your pace, you need to push your in­ten­sity to the point of dis­com­fort for the full three min­utes. If you walk with a part­ner, your in­ten­sity should be such that you can’t main­tain a con­ver­sa­tion. Keep in mind that each hard in­ter­val is fol­lowed by an easy one, so you can catch your breath and re­cover for three min­utes in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the next bout of speedy walk­ing.

Be­fore we con­clude, it’s worth tak­ing a mo­ment to talk about tech­nol­ogy. There are plenty of great apps that can help you keep track of your in­ter­vals. Type “in­ter­val timer” into the app store and take your pick. Choose one that al­lows you to set up a cus­tom in­ter­val work­out and lets you know when to pick up the pace and when to re­cover. Most work in the back­ground of your phone, which means your in­ter­val cues won’t drown out your playlist. Some walk­ing and run­ning apps, like Nike+ Run Club and Run­tas­tic, al­low you to mon­i­tor your pace, dis­tance and in­ter­vals, as well as keep track of your progress by sav­ing each walk to your work­out history.

In the Ja­panese study, com­bin­ing the walk­ing in­ter­val pro­gram with tech­nol­ogy that tracks progress re­sulted in near-per­fect com­pli­ance after four months and a 70 per cent ad­her­ence rate after 22 months. With such pos­i­tive re­sults, it’s worth chang­ing your walk­ing rou­tine to a work­out that’s guar­an­teed to get you fit­ter in 30 min­utes per day.

The work­out, which they tested on 6,400 sub­jects, in­creased peak aer­o­bic ca­pac­ity by about 10 per cent after five months ...

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