Walking has long been touted as a good form of exercise. It doesn’t require any special equipment and can be done by just about anyone, anywhere, at any time. The benefits are numerous and include burning calories, strengthening bones and muscles and improving mood. But the extent of these benefits depends on your exercise intensity. This can be measured in two ways: your perceived exertion and your heart rate.

Your perceived exertion is merely a subjective measure of how hard physical activity feels to you while you’re doing it. According to the Mayo Clinic, the general guidelines are:

Moderate Level

  • Your breathing quickens, but you’re not out of breath
  • You develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes of activity
  • You can carry on a conversation, but you can’t sing a song

Vigorous Level

  • Your breathing is deep and rapid
  • You develop a sweat after only a few minutes of activity
  • You can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath

Determining your heart rate can be done in several ways. Some exercise equipment or wearable fitness devices will measure your heart rate. You can also take your pulse manually by placing two fingers on either your wrist, throat or temple. Count the beats for 10 seconds and then multiply by 6 to get your pulse rate per minute.

To get an aerobic or cardio benefit to your walking, it is necessary to keep your heart rate within its “target zone” for a minimum of 15-30 minutes. To calculate your target heart rate, you first need to know your maximum heart rate. This is the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during physical activity. There are numerous methods for calculating this, but one simple way recommended by both the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic is to subtract your age from the number 220. Your target zone varies from person to person and depends on your age. The chart below is a guide.*

Chart from the American Heart Association

*Important note: Some high blood pressure medications lower the maximum heart rate and thus the target heart rate. If you're taking such medicine, or if you have, or suspect, a heart condition, talk to a health care professional before exercising.

So, the next time you go for a walk, increase your intensity by walking at a brisker pace or walking up an incline. Swing your arms and try taking smaller, quicker steps. Make note of your perceived exertion or your heart rate. Try to build up to a moderate or vigorous intensity, and maintain that for several minutes. Gradually increase this on your walks, being careful not to overdo it. Over time you’ll notice your stamina increasing and your fitness level improving.

Don’t want to walk alone? Be sure to check out area hiking clubs and walking groups on the Hoosier Hikers Council website. They list many different groups such as the Indianapolis Hiking Club and the Indianapolis Hiking Meetup Group, which sponsor numerous organized hikes all around Central Indiana all year long. And don’t forget this great interactive map of trails and walking paths in Johnson County.

For motivation, check out some of these great library resources about walking:

If the weather doesn’t cooperate for outside walks, check out the inside tracks or treadmills at your local parks and fitness centers.

So, don’t delay. Commit now to make your walks more physically beneficial.

Please Note: All resources are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for the advice or treatment of a doctor or other licensed medical professional. Library staff and materials cannot be used to provide medical diagnoses or treatment advice.

Linda is the White River Branch Manager and leader of our staff wellness team. Staying healthy and keeping fit are keen interests of Linda. Her goal is to enable others to live a healthy lifestyle through good nutrition, physical fitness and a positive outlook, although (shhhhh) she does confess a weakness for potato chips and Cheetos! Join the conversation at linda@jcplin.org.

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