Burn more calories by swinging arms while walking?

Originally Published: December 18, 2009 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 23, 2013
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Hi Alice,

What effects do varied terrain (uphill, downhill, rough ground, etc.) and exaggerated arm movements (swinging, pumping, etc.) have on caloric expenditure?

Dear Reader,

Burning calories does not have to be an uphill battle, though walking up a hill with a 15 degree slope will cause you to use a third more energy than walking on a level surface! Both terrain variation and swinging of the arms will increase caloric expenditure during a walk. Terrain variation is particularly helpful. Walking downhill actually uses about the same amount of energy as walking on a flat surface, unless it is unsteady terrain. Working to keep your balance will burn more energy, unless the surface makes you so unsteady that you have to walk significantly more slowly. So varying terrain can be very healthy, just remember to wear ankle-supporting footwear, especially if walking along unpaved paths or trails.

Arm-swinging will also increase calorie-burning, lends power to your walking, and helps with balance. Swinging the arms can burn 5 to 10 percent more calories than walking without arm-swinging. Here are some tips to maximize this benefit and minimize injury:

  • Be careful not to clench your fists, as this can interfere with circulation
  • Bend elbows at 90 degrees and keep arms close to the body
  • With each step, the arm opposite your forward foot swings straight out rather than diagonally
  • Keep the arm coming forward low — it should not go above breastbone
  • Arm "pumping" and other more exaggerated arm movements are not necessarily helpful in the propelling or calorie-burning department.

Hopefully this will help you get in to the swing of caloric expenditure. For more physical activity information, ideas, and reosources, head on over to CU Move! Happy trails!

Alice