Walking is one of the best low impact exercises. It accommodates every fitness level and offers many health benefits. It’s a daily habit for many, a way to train for more demanding activities for others, and a defense against disease for others. Walking serves all these purposes thanks in part to pacing.
Your pace will determine the intensity, and often the results, of your exercise. Before you begin, however, you need to know how to plan and maintain your pace.
Things to Consider
Before planning your walk, you need to consider a few external elements. Where and when you walk should help determine your pace. Remember, going slow is better than putting too much stress on your heart. You should take additional precautions if you walk in a remote area where you may not be found, or help may not be able to reach you quickly.
Is it Hot Outside?
Hydration keeps your body functioning and moving. While you always need to keep hydrated, hot days put higher demands on your body. Your heart has extra demands to contend with. Not only are you exercising, which raises your core body temperature and forces your heart to work harder, but you are also suffering from the elements, which also raise your core temperature, forcing your heart to work even harder.
The faster you walk, the harder your heart works. Even if you’re in good shape, walk frequently, and trust your regular pace, hot weather should influence your goals. Slow down and focus on keeping cool. Dehydration isn’t your only concern. Heat stroke is no joke, and it’s more important to be fit enough to walk tomorrow than to push too hard today.
Are you Walking Up Hill?
Hills are great for cardio. However, they demand a pace adjustment. Since they increase the amount of gravity you fight, hills put greater demand on your heart, even if you walk at the same pace as flat ground. Hills can actually put more demand on your heart even when you’re going at a slower pace than flat ground.
In order to protect your heart and get the most out of your walk, you shouldn’t necessarily avoid hills, but you must adjust your pace accordingly.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Unless you are working with a trainer for something like physical therapy or sports, you should adjust your pace based on your body’s unique signals. Everyone has slightly different fitness needs and goals. Your body will let you know when you are pushing too hard, or when you can pick up the pace.
Listen to your lungs and slow down if you’re having trouble breathing. Your breathing is the best indication that you need to adjust your pace. When you push too far, you may feel like throwing up.
In the worst case scenario, you may become dizzy, lightheaded, and nauseated. If you develop any of these systems, you should slow down, stop as soon as possible, and recover with some water. Pushing beyond this point may make you seriously ill, and you may faint. This is your body’s way of protecting itself. If you don’t give your body more than it can handle, it will not try to stop you.
Use Objective Measurements
The easiest way to track progress is by using external means of measurement. These include things like smart phones, smart watches, Fit Bits, and wrist-worn heart monitors. Many people judge their level of fitness by how they feel, the distance they walk, or simply the amount of time they can continue walking. Pace, however, is about maintaining a specific speed. This requires more forethought, and probably a small investment in an app or heart rate monitor.
Heart rate is measured in beats per minute, which determines how hard your heart is working to keep up with your demands. While the target zone is determined primarily by age, walking heart should usually land somewhere between ninety and one hundred and seventy beats per minute. Your heart should never go over two hundred beats per minute. If it does, slow your pace until your heart rate is back under control.
Heart rate is the best indication of how your current stress level. Many athletes use heart rate to determine how hard they can safely push themselves. If you use a treadmill, you may already have a heart monitor at your fingertips. If not, it’s a good idea to invest in a small monitor to wear on your wrist, or something like a Fitbit that can even help you track your progress.
You may think only runners measure their speed, but since speed is directly linked to pace, many walkers also use this method. If you use a treadmill, measuring speed is exceptionally easy. Measuring speed while walking in a park or through the city, however, makes that a little more difficult.
The best way to measure and maintain your pace through speed is by using advanced fitness software in smart watches and Fitbits. You can easily look at your wrist from time to time to check your pace. Certain products also have pace alarms that let you know if you drop below a certain speed.
Walking, like any exercise has some risks. In order to manage those risks while still pushing yourself, walkers should try pacing themselves. Even pacing, however, isn’t a perfect solution. The weather and terrain can make your easy stroll a challenging workout, and you can suffer serious consequences if you don’t mind your body’s signals. If you feel unwell, slow down, drink water, and take a break.
Pacing is about measuring success, and there are several ways to do this. You may prefer to monitor your heart rate, which is the safest option, or you may like to measure your pace in the most traditional way, by speed. Whichever option you prefer, always listen to your body. Take your surroundings and fitness level into consideration when you set your pace. Remember, you’re walking; it’s okay to go slow.