COLUMBUS, Ohio, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- A daily walk can have a variety positive health effects. In terms of heart and metabolic health, some studies even suggest a long enough walk is just as good as a jog or run.
Perhaps walking's only physiological weakness is its inability to spur significant levels of fat-burning. But a new study suggests a simple tweak to a daily stroll could help walkers burn more calories.
The tweak: switch up the pace.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that exercisers who varied their pace over the course of a walk burned 20 percent more calories than those who kept a constant speed. The findings were published this week in the journal Biology Letters.
"Most of the existing literature has been on constant-speed walking. This study is a big missing piece," study co-author Manoj Srinivasan, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State, said in a press release. "Measuring the metabolic cost of changing speeds is very important because people don't live their lives on treadmills and do not walk at constant speeds. We found that changing speeds can increase the cost of walking substantially."
The revelation isn't all that surprising. Acceleration and deceleration require more energy than maintaining momentum -- the more one changes speed, the more one accelerates and decelerates. The more energy used, the more calories burned.
As part of the study of walking habits, researchers also realized walkers tend to walk slower when covering shorter distances and faster when covering more ground.
"What we've shown is the distance over which you make them walk matters," Seethapathi said. "You'll get different walking speeds for different distances. Some people have been measuring these speeds with relatively short distances, which our results suggest, might be systematically underestimating progress."
Measuring expected speeds based on distance could help physical therapists set more helpful benchmarks and monitor progress during a patient's rehabilitation.
For everyday walkers looking to burn a few pounds, the takeaway from the new research is simple: change it up.
"How do you walk in a manner that burns more energy? Just do weird things," Srinivasan said. "Walk with a backpack, walk with weights on your legs. Walk for a while, then stop and repeat that. Walk in a curve as opposed to a straight line."