Pick up your walking pace to lose more belly fat

It’s no secret that walking is a great way to stay healthy. But if you want walking to help you lose weight, you might be doing it all wrong.

That’s because slow and steady walking doesn’t beat belly fat. To lose weight efficiently and target the most dangerous type of fat, called visceral or deep abdomen fat, studies have shown that you need to pick up the pace and walk with intensity.

One such study by exercise physiologists at the University of Virginia showed that women who completed three 30-minute fast-paced walks and two slower walks per week lost four times more total body fat and six times more belly fat than women who walked five days a week at a casual strolling pace. Over the course of 16 weeks, the fast-walkers lost 8 pounds without dieting.

Intense exercise boosts levels of fat-burning hormones in the body and increases the number of calories burned post-exercise, what’s known as the “after-burn effect,” according to Arthur Weltman, Ph.D., director of the exercise laboratory at the University of Virginia.

One of the easiest ways to tap into the fat-burning power of walking is through an exercise technique called high-intensity interval training. HIIT is nothing more than alternating short bursts of fast-paced effort with slower, easier recovery segments.

Here’s an example of an easy HIIT walking workout:

Start with a three-minute warmup at the pace of a casual stroll; that’s an intensity of, say, three or four on a scale of one to 10.

Moderate pace: Next, pick up the pace to an intensity level of six for two minutes. You should still be able to carry on a conversation. It helps to wear a watch or carry a smartphone and use the stopwatch function.

Fast pace: Swing your arms and speed up to a power walk of about seven to eight on an intensity scale of 10. Keep it up for one minute. It should be very difficult to speak in full sentences at this intensity.

Moderate pace: After a minute, slow down to a moderate “recovery” pace for three minutes. Then continue alternating between a one-minute fast pace and a three-minute moderate recovery pace for 20 to 30 minutes, ending with a three-minute cool down of slow walking.

“The trick to losing weight is burning as much fuel as possible as quickly as possible,” says Tim Coyle, an exercise physiologist in New York City. “Think of a car traveling at a steady speed of 55 mph on a highway; that’s pretty fuel efficient,” he says. “Compare that with stop-and-go city driving, where the car uses much more gasoline. That slow-down, speed-up pattern is like interval training. That’s what you want to burn more calories.”

Here are some easy techniques to adjust your walking style to make it more effective at burning away belly fat.

(Before starting any new exercise program, especially high-intensity exercise, see your physician for a checkup and let him or her know your fitness plans.)

Pump Your Arms.

Bend your elbows at right angles and keep your hands loose as if holding a potato chip between your thumb and fingers; that’ll prevent you from squeezing your fists and tensing your shoulders. Now, keeping your arms close to your body, swing them in an arc. The faster you swing, the longer your stride and the faster you’ll walk. Doing so can boost calorie burn about 10 percent.

Walk Before Breakfast.

Exercising on an empty stomach — or what’s known as a “fasted state” — can help you burn more calories directly from body fat instead of from the carbohydrates you ate.

Cue Up Fast-Tempo Tunes.

Make a playlist of upbeat songs that are between 80 and 130 beats per minute to set your pace. The beat will keep you moving fast, and your favorite tunes will motivate you to push yourself harder. (For safety, use your earbuds or headphones only while walking on a treadmill, not
on the street.)

Head for the Hills.

Adding hills to your walking route will create an interval-training workout automatically by forcing you to alter your pace. The inclines will elevate your heart rate and boost your calorie burn by nearly 20 percent.

Take the Stairs.

For a quick interval-training walking workout, walk the bleachers of a local high school football stadium. Walk up 10 to 20 steps at a brisk but controlled pace, and then walk back down at a slow recovery pace. That’s one repetition. Do five to 10. Stair intervals are also great training for hikes. For added resistance, do them while wearing a loaded backpack.

“Stair climbing builds your glutes and calls into play lots of stabilizer muscles because you’re stressing and balancing on one leg as you lift your other leg to the next step,” says Coyle. “Stair climbing elevates your heart rate quickly, so it’s a great way to get a lot of exercise value out of a short workout.”

Walk on Sand.

Walking on soft surfaces that aren’t firmly packed requires you to use more muscles to maintain your balance, resulting in greater energy expenditure. Walking on soft sand, for example, increases calorie expenditure by almost 50 percent compared to walking on a track if you keep your pace the same.

Add Strength Moves to Your Walk.

At the halfway point on your high-intensity interval walk, stop walking and do a quick circuit of bodyweight exercises, such as pushups, jumping jacks, squats and bear walking. Allow your heart rate to come down while walking at a moderate pace before you start your fast-paced intervals again.

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