The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Increasing the Caloric Burn in Low Impact Cardio

Written by
Michael Harper, MEd
Posted in
Live well

Thursday, Apr 17, 2014

Low impact cardiovascular activities can help to minimize the risk of injury. However, low impact activities such as walking are sometimes perceived as not having as many options for increasing caloric burn. Fortunately, incorporating interval training with walking can help increase caloric expenditure. Plus, walking is an activity that requires no equipment, is easy to do, and is one of the most natural forms of physical activity.

Interval training involves bouts of higher intensity exercise mixed with periods of lower intensity exercise that allows for partial recovery. More calories are burned at higher intensities when compared to lower intensities of the same duration. Increasing the intensity of walking can be accomplished by walking faster or walking on an incline. When added to a steady speed walk of the same length of time, the number of total calories burned will be increased. To accommodate for varied fitness levels and individual differences, the time, speed, and incline of the amplified interval periods can be manipulated.

Not only will you be burning more calories during the interval periods, research has also shown other significant benefits from interval training. A 2007 study by Nemoto1 and colleagues showed greater improvement in peak aerobic capacity for walking and lower body strength in addition to larger reductions in resting systolic blood pressure for those performing walking intervals. In this study, the participants who performed walking intervals completed 5 or more sets of walking at an intensity of 40% for 2-3 minutes followed by walking at an intensity of 70% - 85% for 3 minutes. In another study (Campbell, et al., 2009)2, obese participants performed walking intervals in two 15 minute split sessions but at slightly lower intensities. While participants did not see significant improvements in aerobic capacity over the 12 weeks, they still saw increased caloric burn by adding the intervals as well as decreased very low density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL) levels.

If just starting out, it is appropriate to begin with just a few intervals mixed throughout a walk at a pace or incline just slightly above what is currently being performed. If walking outside, this might be as simple as walking at a normal pace, then walking at a faster pace for 20-30 seconds every fourth street light that is passed. Over time as fitness level improves, the length, speed, or incline of intervals can be amplified.

Walking is a great low impact cardio activity that can be enhanced through focus on skills, technique, and other concepts of intervals that are taught in The Cooper Institute’s Power Walking training. Walking can seem simple but as is explored in this 1 day class, there are some specific ways that you can get the most out of it for your health and fitness. And the best part, these techniques can be easily integrated into your fitness routine regardless of whether your focus is weight loss, fitness, fun, or helping others as an instructor.



1Nemoto, K., Gen-no, H., Masuji, S., Okazaki, K., & Nose, H. (2007). Effects of high-intensity interval walking training on physical fitness and blood pressure in middle-aged and older people. Mayo Clin Proc, 82(7), 803-811.

2Campbell, L., Wallman, K., & Green, D. (2010) The effects of intermittent exercise on physiological outcomes in an obese population: Continuous versus interval walking. J Sports Sci & Med, 9, 24-30.