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7 Benefits of Walking Uphill

Benefits of Walking Uphill

The benefits of walking uphill often go overlooked in favour of activities such as hiking or long distance running. However, by simply adding a small incline to your daily excursion your body will feel the results. 

This article seeks to tackle these benefits of hill walking, whilst also discussing how you can execute the activity safely. 

But first, if you’d like to explore the world of fitness beyond uphill walking, we’d recommend enrolling in OriGym’s Personal Training Diploma.

The quality of all our certifications is guaranteed thanks to Ofqual-regulated training, as well as CISMPA accreditation. Both of these factors help to ensure that our prospectus is formulated with your future success in mind.

Contents:

Examples of Common Incline Gradients 

How to walk uphill

The incline, or as it is otherwise known, the gradient is determined by how steep the land or treadmill is when it’s directly below your feet.  

This incline is often measured in relation to how much the road elevates every 100 feet. 

On Hills and Mountains: 

Uphill walking

For example, when looking to feel the benefits of hill walking in the great outdoors, you may notice that there are signs which indicate an incline of 5%. This means that the road will elevate by 5 feet for every 100 feet you walk.

Unless you’re frequently walking uphill at the exact same spot, you’ll notice that when walking outdoors you’ll encounter various inclines and terrains.

Therefore, for certain individuals, this exercise regime could be more challenging than once anticipated, as before you know it the incline could jump from 5% to 10%. 

We’d strongly recommend doing prior research into the gradients and terrain of the area you intend to walk. Whilst you may believe walking to be an easy task, do not underestimate the challenge presented before you and jump into a high gradient.

Instead, opt for a smaller incline until you can find you’ve begun walking uphill regularly.

On a Treadmill: 

how many calories burned walking uphill

Walking on an incline on the treadmill is slightly different, as the gradient will only increase by increments of 0.5%.

One of the benefits of uphill walking on a treadmill is that it’s significantly easier for newcomers to attempt. This is largely due to the fact that the maximum incline is usually 15%, with only speciality treadmills reaching 35%.

Furthermore, when using treadmills you won’t be met with any surprise changes in the gradient or terrain. Instead, you will be in direct control over how steep this is, meaning that you can take training at your own pace. 

7 Benefits of Walking Uphill 

#1 – Works a Wider Range of Leg Muscles

 benefits of hill walking

When walking on a flat surface only 20% of your leg’s muscle tissue is used. In contrast to this, one of the benefits of hill walking is that it engages far more muscle groups throughout the lower body. 

When walking up a hill the main muscles that are used when walking up a hill are:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes 
  • Lower leg - e.g. calves 

These muscles are often referred to as the posterior chain, and when walking up a hill you’ll be forcing the vast majority of your body weight onto your forefoot. This in turn will generate more power, speed and muscle tone throughout the lower half of your body. 

 walking up a hill

If you’d like to feel some of the added benefits of hill walking, we can stress that the higher the incline is, the more of a workout your glutes and hamstrings will receive. Therefore, if you’re looking to increase muscle toning within that area you should strive to challenge yourself.

Furthermore, many wrongly conflate the benefits of walking uphill exercises solely with the lower half of your body. However, this exercise can also engage your abs, helping to stabilise your body through a great core workout. 

If you’d like further advice on how to engage your core, click here.

#2 – Helps To Prevent Type-2 Diabetes 

benefits of walking uphill on treadmill

Another example of the benefits of uphill walking is that it can help to regulate glucose metabolism throughout the body.

This is supported by a 2017 study from the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, which sought to investigate the benefits of uphill walking on glucose tolerance and cholesterol levels.  For reference, this investigation consisted of participants who were middle-aged males, all of whom were considered to be pre-diabetic. 

These participants proceeded to engage with 9 hills and incline treadmill walking exercises across a span of 3 weeks. 

incline treadmill walking

The results reflected that the glucose tolerance and the total cholesterol present within the body had significantly improved. Therefore the study concluded that one of the benefits of uphill walking is that it can successfully help to prevent type-2 diabetes.

Therefore, we can definitively say that this form of exercise is not just for those who are looking to improve their fitness - walking uphill exercises can be beneficial for improving your overall health.

 

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#3 – Burns More Calories

Incline walking weight loss

If you're interested in walking uphill to lose weight, you’ll be pleased to note that you’ll burn far more calories engaging with this practice compared to walking on flat ground. 

This in large part is thanks to the natural effects of gravity, which make it harder to walk uphill. As a result, you’re using and engaging with muscles throughout your body, thus shedding more calories as a result. 

But exactly how many calories are burned walking uphill?

Well, it's estimated that a 150-pound individual can expect to burn 128 calories per mile when walking up a hill. 

walking up a hill

When walking on an incline the calories burned is significantly greater than the average expectancy for walking on flat ground. With an individual of the same weight, this form of exercise would only burn around 80-calories per mile.

If you’re unsure of how many calories are burned walking uphill on your excursions, you can use a simple online calculator such as OMNI

This software will take into account factors such as your:

  • Height 
  • Weight 
  • Overall walking time
  • Distance walked
  • Gradient walked 
  • Average walking speed

walking uphill exercise

However, please be aware that the numbers generated by these calculators aren’t guaranteed to be 100% accurate all the time. Other factors could impact your results, including:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Genetics
  • Weight of any luggage - e.g. backpacks

Instead, the calculators are designed to merely give you a general idea of how many calories are burned walking uphill. But rest assured, regardless of these external factors, the number will always be higher when compared to that of flat ground walking. 

This same rule applies if you’re walking on an incline on the treadmill for weight loss. Try to raise the gradient above floor level to burn more calories. Just don’t push yourself too hard too fast, smaller gradients can still produce effective results.

#4 – Is a Low-Impact, But High-Intensity Exercise 

Benefits of uphill walking forest

Walking is always considered to be a ‘low-impact’ exercise, this means that it doesn’t put stress on your legs or important joints. However, as we have discussed at length throughout this article, walking on flat surfaces won’t guarantee as many beneficial properties. 

Instead, one of the benefits of walking uphill on a treadmill or outdoors is that you can keep this low-impact aspect, whilst also increasing the intensity of your workout.

The intensity of these walks provides a whole host of their own benefits, some of which we have already discussed such as weight loss, and increased muscle strength. Therefore, you should be actively seeking to challenge yourself with a greater level of physical intensity. 

When a workout is considered to be high-impact you put more strain on your legs and joints, this can in turn cause injuries to occur over time. Some examples of these exercises include:

  • Running/Sprinting 
  • Jumping Rope
  • Long jumps
  • HIIT

uphill walking exercises 2

So, what does it mean when we say that walking uphill exercises are ‘low-impact, but high intensity’, and why is it considered a benefit?

Well, this point can be condensed down to simply stating that it’s a safe and efficient workout that can provide the body with a plethora of benefits.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any benefits to skipping or other high-impact exercises - there are simply greater health risks associated with these respective practices. 

Additionally, please remember, if you intend on walking on an incline on a treadmill you can have direct control over the intensity of the workout. For example, if you want to really challenge yourself, you could increase the gradient of your incline every five minutes. 

#5 – Boosts Your Mood 

how many calories burned walking uphill Image

While everyone knows that exercise is a fantastic mood booster thanks to the endorphins that it releases, one of the benefits of walking uphill is that it can have bonus effects on your mind and mental health. 

A scientific paper from 2015 showed that walking in nature had significant benefits for participants' mental health, compared to a walk in an urban environment, which showed no such conclusions. 

This study concluded its report by stating that walking in nature reduces brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, which helps to improve your mood and combat negative emotions.

Therefore, if you’re questioning whether you should take up incline treadmill walking or that hill walking for mental health purposes, we’d opt for the latter. 

Walking on an incline mood

However, don’t let this confine you to only walking indoors. Other mood-boosting effects from regularly participating in uphill walking include:

  • Reduced stress levels
  • Better sleeping pattern 
  • Increased feeling of energy 

Therefore, you can still realistically partake in incline treadmill walking and experience some of these benefits. 

You know your body better than anybody else, and therefore you should tune in with yourself and determine what approach makes you feel best.

#6 – It’s Good For Your Heart 

uphill walking benefits for heart

Any type of physical activity has the potential to increase your heart rate, in fact, when you’re resting your heart rate is typically at its lowest and is often referred to as your resting heart rate.

However, as a cardio exercise, one of the benefits of walking uphill on a treadmill or outside is that it’s a great workout for your heart, and increases its rate significantly. 

Even if your speed is slower than it typically would be when walking on flat surfaces, your heart rate will always be higher when walking up an incline. 

Increasing your heart rate can help to move oxygen and blood around your body, in order to improve the function of your muscles. Furthermore, it can also hold benefits such as helping to lower your cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer. 

walking uphill benefits

A 2009 study from the European Journal of Epidemiology found that by walking up an incline for only half an hour a day, for 5 days a week, people could reduce their risk of coronary heart disease by 19%. 

Not only that, but a recent 2018 study examined the link between exercise and resting heart rate. It found that endurance sports – such as walking on an incline – could reduce your resting heart rate, which in turn can contribute to a longer lifespan and the reduction of heart-related diseases. 

Walking uphill is an excellent way to improve your cardio endurance and heart health without doing high impact activities such as running. However, if you’d like to learn more about different cardiovascular and aerobic exercises and their benefits, check out our article on the matter.

But perhaps one of the greatest benefits of improved cardiovascular health can be found in our next point. 

#7 – Can Help You To Live Longer

walking up a hill effects

Another example of the great benefits of uphill walking is that it can add a significant number of years onto your lifespan.  This directly relates to the point made above, as exercise can reduce the risk of serious illnesses such as heart disease.

Naturally, if the risk of becoming sick is reduced, your quality of life will greatly improve, and you can potentially live longer. 

Many studies have focused on the link between walking and the longevity of life.

For example, this study from the British Medical Journal found that, by even slightly increasing the intensity at which you walk, you can drastically improve your cardiovascular health, which has a knock-on effect on life expectancy.

calories burned walking uphill

The research went on to elaborate that walking on for even an hour a day can influence these positive cardiovascular changes. 

Therefore, if you’re someone who wishes to make positive lifestyle changes but doesn’t have a lot of spare time, we’d strongly recommend walking on an incline on a treadmill, or outdoors in hilly areas.

We promise you that your body and overall health will thank you later! 

If you’re enjoying learning about the benefits of walking uphill we’d also advise these other OriGym articles:

 

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How To Start Walking Up a Hill 

Thinking about how to start walking uphill

Now, you may be thinking that there is a very simple answer to this question. However, in order to get all of the benefits of hill walking, you need to know how to do it safely in order to avoid any unnecessary injuries.

With all of this in mind, this section is dedicated to providing some handy tips for walking on an incline whether indoors or outdoors.

#1 – Warm Up Before You Walk!

Couple stretching before walking uphill

This might seem obvious, but as walking on an incline is higher intensity than walking on a flat surface, you’ll need to warm up more than you usually would. This will help to avoid injuries by getting your muscles ready for more intense exercise.

For this particular workout, we’d advise warming up by stretching areas such as your:

  • Calves
  • Glutes 
  • Hamstrings 

For this, we’d advise focusing on dynamic stretches which engage all of the muscles you intend on working throughout your uphill walking journey.

The benefits of dynamic stretches can be felt throughout your body as they essentially prepare it for what it's about to endure. So, regardless of whether you’re practising incline treadmill walking, or intend on getting outside, you must always warm up!

#2 – Maintain a Good Pace

Pace needed for Walking uphill

When you initially begin hill walking you may be tempted to maintain your typical pace associated with walking on flat ground.

However, remember that these two practices will require a different approach and intensity. This means that if you try to maintain your average walking pace, you could become tired quicker than expected.

You still want to challenge yourself naturally, but as discussed within the main body of the article, even walking uphill at a slower pace can still grant many benefits that would otherwise be inaccessible if you opted for flat ground.

walking on an incline on the treadmill

If you’re new to this practice, it may be worth practising incline treadmill walking first. This will allow you to directly control what pace you work at, allowing you to access your approach for direct hill walking. 

Ultimately, you need to work at whatever pace feels most comfortable for you and your body. Don’t force yourself to go harder than necessary, simply to conform to the performance level you think you should be at. 

#3 - Start Slowly and Small 

Slowly walking uphill

This connects to what we were just discussing, as if you’re just starting to walk uphill, don’t expect to be trekking up 20% incline hills with ease. This practice can take time to master, and rushing into it blindly will only lead to injuries. 

Remember, the reason why we recommend walking on an incline on the treadmill first, is that you can simply stop if things get too challenging, whereas walking up a hill outdoors requires a greater physical commitment on your part and can’t be as easily abandoned. 

This is why we recommended increasing your incline treadmill walking by increments of 0.5% each time. This won’t be so physically demanding on the body, meaning that newcomers will be less likely to suffer from injuries. 

Benefits of hill walking

However, if you’d like to start walking uphill in outdoor locations, we’d advise to do your own research and look for smaller gradients within your immediate vicinity.  

By starting with smaller inclines you will be able to gradually build your stamina and leg muscles, both of which are required in abundance to tackle steeper hills and inclines.

Don’t be discouraged if walking up a hill takes you longer than you think it should, it’s an incredibly intense form of exercise at times. 

#4 – Lean Into The Hill 

When you start walking on an incline, your centre of gravity shifts, as you’re essentially pushing away from the gravitational pull of the incline. To combat this, you’ll need to lean forward into the hill or incline itself.

Please note, we’re not implying that your body should be completely bent, this should be a slight lean that seeks to keep you balanced by engaging your core muscles. 

We’d advise trying to lean from your ankles, as doing so from the waist will throw you off balance, causing inevitable injuries. For reference, your torso should always be over your hips, as this stops you from hinging at the hips and leaning too far forward. 

Strenuous uphill walking

This tip applies to both incline treadmill walking, as well as outdoor explorations of hills and peaks. If you opt for the former we’d advise against grabbing the handrails for support, as this will create a feeling of dependence on your body.

Should this occur, you will greatly struggle to conduct this technique without the added support of the handrails. 

 

#5 – Track Your Walks 

Apps for uphill walking

Tracking your progress is an excellent motivator if you’re new to walking uphill. This can be done regardless of whether you use a treadmill or prefer to explore an outdoor setting.

If you prefer to opt for a treadmill we’d advise investing in a smartwatch. With this one piece of technology, you will he able to track stats such as:

  • Heart rate 
  • Calories burnt 
  • Distance traveled 

In contrast, if you prefer to walk outdoors it may be worth downloading a fitness companion app. 

Apps for walking up an incline

With this you can gain important information that can keep you safe when walking in nature. The apps to feature in Origym’s article on the best hiking apps, for example, will highlight aspects such as:

  • Gradients 
  • Directions
  • Terrain 

These apps may also feature a leaderboard system that directly tracks your progress through increments such as miles traveled.

This will be particularly useful and fun if you’re of a competitive nature, or just wish to share your fitness progress with family and friends.

How Long Should I Walk Uphill For?

How long should I walk uphill for

If you want to get all the benefits of walking uphill, you need to dedicate a certain amount of time in order to do so.

From the studies we mentioned throughout this article we know that the benefits of walking up a hill can be felt in as little as half an hour. Therefore, we’d advise you to incorporate this into your routine across a total of 4-5 days a week.

One way in which you could do this is by practicing activities such as incline treadmill walking, or by going on outdoor hikes. This process could even involve incorporating this into your daily commute! 

The Differences Between Walking Uphill and Walking on Flat Ground

Question about uphill walking

Whilst there are many health benefits to walking on flat ground, such as improving your heart and lung health, there is always room for improving your exercise technique. 

Therefore, if you’re looking to get more out of your everyday stroll, we’d recommend making the switch to inclines!

This activity intensifies your workout and places a greater demand on your body's muscles and joints, compared to when you’re walking on a flat surface. As a result of this, you will feel certain benefits that would otherwise be unattainable, or significantly harder to achieve.

For example, the amount of calories burned from walking uphill are significantly greater, due to the fact this activity requires more energy and incurs greater metabolic costs.

The Difference Between Walking Uphill vs Walking on Flat Ground

In some instances when walking on a flat surface, you’d have to walk for twice the distance, or for a significantly longer period of time to burn the same number of calories.

Therefore, whilst there are many positive aspects associated with walking on flat ground respectively, they are not the same as the benefits of uphill walking. Thus, both practices should be looked at as two completely separate entities, rather than being lumped in together.

The Downside of Uphill Walking

bad points about uphill walking

While there are many benefits to walking uphill, there can also be some drawbacks to take into consideration. 

Although walking on an incline can strengthen your leg muscles, this can also lead to an injury or a pulled muscle if you don’t warm up beforehand or you’re not used to working those muscles yet. 

This is why we always recommend practicing incline treadmill walking, as you will be able to exercise at your own pace.

Walking on an incline injury

Another potential drawback of walking uphill that you might experience is shin splints. These are usually defined by sharp pains that shoot along the front of your lower leg. Thankfully, should you ever experience these pains they can be easily treated with:

  • Stretching 
  • Ice
  • Rest 

If you’d like to prevent shin splints from occuring in the first place, there are a plethora of ways to do so. One method involves wearing insoles inside whichever shoe is used for walking uphill exercises. 

These will offer your foot some padding, which in turn can absorb some of the shock created by your foot hitting the ground. Furthermore, insoles help to shift the distribution of pressure from the bottom of your foot, helping to protect the heels and shins from the excess force.

 

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Is Walking Uphill Better Than Uphill Running?

uphill walking vs uphill running

Neither is technically better than the other, as much like walking on flat ground, the benefits of running uphill are many and plentiful - they simply differ from those associated with walking uphill.

However, running uphill is considered to be a high-impact sport and is therefore likely to place more stress on your joints. This could potentially lead to a greater risk of injury, something that no avid runner or walker wishes to experience.

However, one of the added benefits of running uphill instead of walking, is that you’re likely to burn more calories.

walking uphill on a treadmill incline

As discussed within the article above, it’s estimated that 128 calories are burned walking uphill. In contrast to this, someone who weighs around 150 pounds, can expect to lose up to 1,000 calories from running uphill.

This isn’t to say walking on an incline on the treadmill to lose weight isn’t an effective way to do so. It simply means that exercises that require a greater intensity (in this case running) will burn more calories. 

Therefore, we can say that one practice isn’t better than the other. Instead, your personal preference towards running or walking could be shaped by factors such as your personal goals. 

Before You Go!

Now that we’ve covered all of the amazing benefits of walking uphill, hopefully you’re inspired to get out there and tackle some inclines for yourself!

Remember to start slowly but steadily, and you’ll see your strength and endurance improve massively, allowing you to take on greater challenges at later dates.

But if engaging with hillwalking has introduced you to the world of fitness, a great next step would be to enrol in OriGym’s Personal Training Diploma.

Here, you can learn beneficial practical skills and theoretical knowledge, both of which will be required to launch a successful personal training career following graduation. 

Resources 

  • Gregory N. Bratman, J. Paul Hamilton, Kevin S. Hahn, Gretchen C. Daily, James J. Gross, Nature reduces rumination and sgPFC activation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jul 2015, 112 (28) 8567-8572; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1510459112
  • Nagai M, Kuriyama S, Kakizaki M, et al Impact of walking on life expectancy and lifetime medical expenditure: the Ohsaki Cohort Study, BMJ Open 2011;1:bmjopen-2011-000240. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000240
  • Philippe M, Gatterer H, Eder EM, Dzien A, Somavilla M, Melmer A, Ebenbichler C, Müller T, Burtscher M. The Effects of 3 Weeks of Uphill and Downhill Walking on Blood Lipids and Glucose Metabolism in Pre-Diabetic Men: A Pilot Study. J Sports Sci Med. 2017 Mar 1;16(1):35-43. PMID: 28344449; PMCID: PMC5358029.
  • Reimers AK, Knapp G, Reimers CD. Effects of Exercise on the Resting Heart Rate: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Interventional Studies. J Clin Med. 2018;7(12):503. Published 2018 Dec 1. doi:10.3390/jcm7120503

Written by Lauren Banks

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Lauren is a history graduate with a first-class degree from Lancaster University and is currently completing her Masters Degree. She worked on the university paper Scan for her 4 years there, eventually becoming the Carolynne Editor, overseeing 5 sections underneath her. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her lifting weights at the gym, trying to beat her current 5K personal best, or with her head in a long book.

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