Why walking up and down hills will give you more bang for your exercise buck

Walking is one of the easiest and cheapest ways of exercising, and an effective way of managing weight. Regular brisk walking will improve performance of the heart, lungs and circulation, as well as lower blood pressure and has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illness such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers. You add hills to your walk though and those health benefits soar.

This article is the first of many over the coming months to help you use the hills, stairs and steps in your local neighbourhood to improve your overall health.

Today we’ll focus on the health benefits of uphill and downhill walking:

  • Burn more body fat and calories

Even a modest 3 to 8% incline can increase calorie burn by 20%, whilst walking up a 15% slope uses about a 30% more energy than walking on a flat surface. So, although walking on flat surfaces provides fitness benefits, you can improve your results even more by walking a route that includes hills or steep inclines or finding some steps to power up and down.

Walking uphill is also great for lowering blood lipids. Recent studies have shown that while uphill walking, test subjects lowered their triglycerides by 11% (these are the unhealthy fat found in the blood), compared with 6.8 percent while downhill walking. So perfect if you are worried about your cholesterol.

  • Healthy heart and lungs

Uphill walking uses the same motor patterns as running. The intensity demands that the cardiovascular system works at a level almost equivalent to running and certainly higher than walking on a flat terrain. Increased intensities will lead to improved heart and lung functioning with a decreased risk of developing heart disease.

  • Stronger, toned muscles

When you walk up hills, you are moving vertically. This forces you to work multiple lower body muscles harder. The glutes, quads and hamstrings, for example, are engaged more due to the greater knee flexion and hip extension required to walk uphill. The extra plantiflexion (when your toes point down) needed to walk uphill makes sure that your calves get a great workout too. See the muscles below.


While walking is primarily a lower body exercise, you also work a few muscles on your upper body. You work your abdominal and back muscles constantly to keep your torso upright, especially as the incline increases. You work the muscles in your shoulders and upper arms as you perform the natural arm-swinging motion that accompanies walking.

Add Nordic poles and you’ll not only sail up the hills but those big upper body muscles will also get used for a more superior workout altogether.

  • Higher intensity exercise without the joint damage

Walking is generally a lower impact activity than, say running, and gentle on the joints. But if calorie burn is important many people prefer higher-impact aerobic activities. Because walking uphill increases heart rate more than walking on a flat surface, walking uphill approaches the calorie and fat burn of those higher-impact exercises but without the corresponding joint damage.

  • Convenience

Driving to a gym for your exercise can add significant time and cost to getting fit. If you have hills or steps or stairs in your neighbourhood though you can simply walk up and down for an extended period of time at different speed and using different drills. We’ll be posting programmes in due course.

  • Walking Downhill Gives Surprising Benefits

All walking is beneficial for improving lipid problems and glucose metabolism. Recent research found that downhill walking did a better job of improving glucose tolerance (by 8.2%), which is a measure of how well a person is able to move glucose out of the blood and into the cells of the body, compared with to uphill walking (a 4.5 % improvement).

What do we say?

Uphill and downhill – hills are fantastic both ways.


Written by: Lisa Drewe on 4 Mar 2017, 15:58 PM



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