Should you be wearing a weighted vest on your daily walks?

A photo illustration of a woman walking while wearing a weighted vest.
There are many benefits to wearing a weighted vest. Here's what to know. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images) (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)

By now, you’ve probably read all about how walking is a fantastic way to exercise: It’s free, comes with a slew of health benefits, aids digestion after meals and allows you to sneak in outdoor time, which can boost your mood. Yet while it can be a challenge to hit 10,000 steps a day (or whatever goal you set for yourself), walking, at its core, tends to lack the intensity some people crave from a workout.

While you can always increase your speed, cover more distance or choose routes with more incline (whether that’s on a treadmill or in the great outdoors), those aren’t the only ways to ramp up the intensity. Enter the weighted vest, which helps to build strength and endurance. Many people, including Food Network star Guy Fieri and CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, are using these vests to boost their workouts and daily walks.

But what are the benefits of walking with a weighted vest — and what are the potential hazards? Experts share how to get started and what to be aware of before you get to stepping.

Dr. Vivek Babaria, a sports medicine specialist, tells Yahoo Life that wearing a weighted vest has several benefits, including increasing the intensity of your walk, which can help you burn more calories and improve cardiovascular health by pushing your body.

But you’ll get more than just cardio benefits from wearing a weighted vest. Because you’re adding resistance to your walk in the form of weight, wearing a weighted vest “also helps build muscle strength and endurance, particularly in the lower body and core.” Similar to a weight-lifting session, walking with a weighted vest also helps promote better bone density, he says, “as the added weight puts more stress on your bones, stimulating cells that promote new bone growth.”

Vests come in a variety of weights, and it’s important to pick a weight that works best for your fitness level and body type in order to avoid injury. Rob Rowland, a physical therapist for the University of Maryland Terrapins and University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers, recommends that someone with strength training experience may want to start off with a vest that represents 10% of their body weight, while someone less experienced may be more comfortable with a vest that’s closer to 5%. (Some vests are adjustable and include the ability to add on extra weights as you gain strength.)

“In general, you should start light and make small jumps in resistance as your fitness improves,” Rowland tells Yahoo Life. “An external weight that causes pain or excessive soreness — lasting more than 24 hours — is likely too much.”

Just because a vest is the proper weight doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. Ellen Thompson, a certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness, tells Yahoo Life that a vest should fit snugly but not restrict breathing or movement. Most weighted vests have adjustable straps that allow you to customize the fit.

“It’s important to make sure the weight is evenly distributed throughout the vest,” she adds. “When you have imbalanced weight, it can affect your posture and put extra stress on some parts of the body. Padded vests can be helpful to prevent chafing during long walks.”

If you don’t have a weighted vest, you can actually use a backpack to achieve similar results, says Rowland, noting that the backpack should have adjustable straps that allow you to secure the pack high on your back. “Hiking packs or rucksacks will typically have a hip belt that will allow you to secure the pack on top of your hips,” he says. “This is ideal, as it will let you carry more weight on your hips versus your shoulders, which will end up being more comfortable.”

The biggest concern is carrying too heavy a load or not wearing the vest or backpack properly. This can lead to poor posture and potentially soreness and injury, Thompson says. If you notice soreness that lasts more than 24 hours, you may want to adjust your weighted vest or backpack — or even remove some of the weight, if possible.

Rowland adds that progressing too quickly into walking with a weighted vest without an adequate foundation of fitness can also lead to injury. You should also make sure to clear this exercise with a medical provider if you have issues like breathing difficulties or a history of neck and back injuries.

It’s also important to consider your environment, Rowland says. Be careful when using a weighted vest on hot, humid days, as the extra exertion can make you tire out more quickly and make it more challenging for your body to cool itself down.