Fitness professionals recommend moderate-intensity brisk walking as a fun and effective way to maintain and improve health. 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. People who walk hills make gains in strength, endurance and overall health faster because the body must work harder during exercise.
Improved Cardiovascular Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking. Although 150 minutes per week is enough to maintain your current fitness level, adding hills increases intensity and helps you make fitness gains. These gains include increased fat and calorie burn, as well as improved endurance and cardiorespiratory efficiency. As you train your bodily systems to work more effectively, you ward off disease, speed the release of toxins and improve your mental state.
Improved Strength and Toning
While fast flat surface walking increases heart rate, walking up hills raises heart rate more and strengthens the muscles in your legs, glutes and core. The energy demands placed on your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and glutes increase dramatically as you walk uphill. If you maintain tight abs and squeeze your muscles while you move, after several weeks you will notice that your legs appear more toned; your legs will become smaller from the increased cardiovascular work, but they will be more shapely as you condition them for strength.
Hard Work without Joint Damage
Unlike other types of intense, high-impact cardiovascular exercises such as running or step aerobics that sometimes cause joint damage because of heavy footfalls, walking is low-impact and gentle on the joints. But many people prefer higher-impact aerobic activities because they burn more calories. Because walking uphill increases heart rate more than walking on a flat surface, this means that walking uphill more closely approaches the fat and calorie burn benefits of high-impact exercise but without the corresponding joint damage.
In addition to the improved endurance, better overall health and increased strength that uphill walkers gain at minimal risk to their joints, walking uphill provides a number of additional benefits. Uphill routes keep fitness routines interesting and challenging, and if you vary your route you reduce your risk of plateauing. Also, walking up and down hills varies your pace so that your body works harder at some points than at others, a major benefit. This fitness technique is called interval training, and fitness professionals at the American Council on Exercise note that it burns high levels of abdominal and dangerous visceral fat.