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Best Cardio Ever: 15 Ways to Make It Really Work


Sidestep Excuses

Tune In

Listening to your favorite downloads while you run or walk revs you up in more ways than one: A recent study found that tuning in to fast, upbeat music (think Fergie, the White Stripes, Amy Winehouse, Shakira) when you exercise can boost your endurance by up to 20 percent.

Find fun new workout playlists — 15 of 'em at:

Treat Yourself

If you have a reward, such as a skim latte, waiting for you at the end of a walk, there's a better chance you'll get out the door. Or give yourself an exercise-related goal with added benefits, like getting in shape for an inn-to-inn walking tour of New England or for a vacation spent hiking volcanoes in Hawaii, suggests Mark Fenton, author of The Complete Guide to Walking.

Check out self-guided tours at

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Bring the Kids

Here's where multitasking comes in handy — plan a weekly walk with your family. You'll burn calories, catch up on what's new, and help your children stay healthy: A recent study at the University of Bristol in England found that 12-year-olds who exercised just 15 minutes a day cut their risk for obesity almost in half.

Be Miles Better

Stay Relaxed

"While running or walking, try to keep your entire body loose and make sure your arms aren't crossing over your body," says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist, running coach and author of The Marathon Method. Otherwise, you're wasting energy and losing both momentum and speed. "If you notice any tension, breathe deeply and then imagine sending air to your tight spots as you exhale," he adds.

Practice Good Form

To walk or run faster, stand tall and bend your arms, says Fenton. Keeping your arms straight as you go requires much more energy. "You don't have to swing in an exaggerated motion — let your thumb come up to chest height, then graze your waistband when you move your hand back," he says. And push off all of your toes, too. "Doing this will give you even more momentum for the next step."

Burn Double the Calories

Add Bursts of Speed

"When you run fast, then slow, then fast again, you burn more calories, because on average, you're moving more quickly than you do during a steady walk," says Holland. Start with a five-minute warm-up, then intersperse a one-minute burst of intensity followed by two minutes of easy running or walking; repeat five times. You can also do longer, distance-based intervals: If you have access to a track nearby, walk (or run) fast on the straightaways and then slow down and go easy on all the curves.

Change Gears

If you typically stick to the treadmill, mix it up and run or walk outside at least once a week. "Factors like wind and varying terrain force your body to work harder and burn more calories," says Holland. On the other hand, if you mostly run or walk outside, hop on the treadmill every now and then — it's much more difficult to cheat your speed and intensity while on the belt.

Fire Up Your Pace

"When walking, try to take at least 40 steps every 20 seconds," says Fenton. "Once you become totally comfortable at this faster pace, shoot for 45 and then 50, even if you can maintain the speed for only a few minutes. "By putting more zip in your step, you can burn about 100 more calories in a 30-minute walk than you usually do."

Add Props

Walking with Nordic poles could help you blast up to 50 percent more calories per hour than usual. "You'll sculpt your triceps, lats, chest, and shoulders — plus, you'll feel your abs contract with every stride," says fitness expert Kathy Smith.

Head for the Hills

"Doing hill repeats — running fast up a hill and then jogging slowly back down to recover — can increase your calorie burn by up to 50 percent," says Holland. If you don't have a hill nearby, run up and down local stadium or park steps instead. Try to work 5 to 10 hill repeats into one of your runs or walks each week.

Avoid the Achy Breaky

Saddle Up

"You can become a faster — and healthier — runner by cross-training, because you're strengthening weaker muscles," says Holland. "Cycling is a great cardio complement, because it works your quads, and running emphasizes your hamstrings."

Be Flexible

Add a Pilates or yoga session into your weekly routine. "Runners tend to have really tight hamstrings and are usually pretty inflexible," says Holland. "Pilates and yoga are safe ways to limber up."

Weight It Out

Just two 15-minute total-body strength-training sessions per week can make your muscles stronger and less susceptible to injury when running or walking, says Holland. Include some balance-building moves, such as single-leg squats or deadlifts, in the mix to help prepare your body for the uneven terrain outdoors, says Bob Seebohar, RD, endurance coach and sport dietitian for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Eat Smarter

Fuel Up First

Even if you're a get-up-at-the-crack-of-dawn-for-a-workout person, you need something in your stomach before heading out, says Seebohar. "You'll go stronger if you have a 100- to 200-calorie snack with some carbs and a little protein, like a banana or half a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter," he says.

Replenish ASAP

"There's a 30- to 60-minute window after exercise when your body restores glycogen, or energy. If you refuel during this period, you'll improve muscle recovery and help to better prepare yourself for the next workout," says Seebohar. Some good options: A non-sugary sports drink with sodium to replace lost electrolytes and a complex carbs/lean protein combo, such as a turkey sandwich.

All-new calorie-blasting walking workouts online at

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2007.