In lieu of contorting your body at your desk to shed the calories from lunch today, get up and take a brisk walk. For the best workout, make sure you vary your speed while you stroll.
New research from two mechanical and industrial engineers at Ohio State University reveals that walking at different speeds increases a person’s metabolic rate—burning more calories—by roughly 20% more than walking at a steady pace. The researchers collected their data (published last month in the journal Biology Letters) by observing male and female participants through respirometry as they sped up and slowed down on treadmills.
Changing speeds burns extra energy, they found—a factor that’s often overlooked in literature on metabolism and exercise.
But measuring the metabolic effect of changing speeds is important because “people don’t live their lives on treadmills and do not walk at constant speeds,” Manoj Srinivasan, an engineering professor and one of the co-authors, explained in a release.
Nidhi Seethapathi, an engineering doctoral fellow and the study’s second author, compared the variance of walking speeds to “pressing the gas pedal.” In other words, the change in kinetic energy requires more work from the legs, which burns more energy. Both researchers noted that their results should not serve as health or weight loss advice, though their core finding—that changing walking speeds has a direct effect on energy burn—is certainly applicable to both.
For other ways to slough off more calories while walking, Srinivasan suggested going about it in ways that feel unnatural: walking with a backpack, for instance, or walking in a curve, or repeatedly walking and stopping. It may look weird, but at least it’s better than pressing reams of paper between your thighs.