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Is Walking a Good Exercise?

Updated: May 16, 2022

For exercise to really count, it has to be hard or complicated, or leave you totally wiped out with muscle pain for days—right? Not at all! While high-intensity activity certainly has its place, so does the most basic, accessible form of exercise: walking. And during the pandemic, it’s become an even more vital physical activity for many people.

Everybody knows how to do it already, so there’s no learning curve. It’s easy to do, and you can do it anywhere. You just need just a good supportive pair of shoes. One of the biggest reasons walking is so popular is because it’s a low-impact exercise, so the risk of injury is relatively low. Unlike other forms of cardio—like running, biking, dance workouts, or boxing— walking isn’t intimidating and it doesn’t require lessons or special equipment.

Know the benefits

Physical activity doesn't need to be complicated. Something as simple as a daily brisk walk can help you live a healthier life.

For example, regular brisk walking can help you:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and lose body fat

  • Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes

  • Improve cardiovascular fitness

  • Strengthen your bones and muscles

  • Improve muscle endurance

  • Increase energy levels

  • Improve your mood, cognition, memory and sleep

  • Improve your balance and coordination

  • Strengthen immune system

  • Reduce stress and tension

Walking for Fitness

The faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits. Experts recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. This can be broken down into small, doable spurts of activity; in fact, it should be, if you’re just starting out.

To get the health benefits, try to walk for at least 30 minutes as briskly as you can on most days of the week. ‘Brisk’ means that you can still talk but not sing, and you may be puffing slightly.

One way to get more out of even a shorter walk is to do it faster. A study has shown that those who had a faster stepping rate had similar health outcomes — lower BMI and lower waist circumference—as those who took the most steps per day. It recommends trying for a minimum of 100 steps per minute (roughly 2.5 to 3 mph) or as brisk a pace as you can (135 steps per minute will get you up to about a 4 mph pace).

Another way is to do intervals. Instead of doing an entire 30-minute walk at the same moderate pace, try high-intensity interval training. Alternate between 30-second to 1-minute bursts of faster walking, followed by a minute or two of slower-paced recovery.

One study found that the group that cranked up the intensity had the greatest reductions in waist circumference and abdominal fat.

Yet another way is to Take it uphill. Think of it as getting two for one. When you increase your intensity, such as walking up a steep hill, you get the equivalent benefit in half the time.

Walking Technique

Maintain good form while walking to get the optimum aerobic benefit with each step and help protect the back and avoid injury. These elements of form should be followed:

  • Head and shoulders: Keep the head up and centered between the shoulders, with eyes focused straight ahead at the horizon. Keep the shoulders relaxed but straight - avoid slouching forward.

  • Abdominal muscles: It is important to actively use the abdominal muscles to help support the trunk of the body and the spine. To do this, keep the stomach pulled in slightly and stand fully upright. Avoid leaning forward as you walk.

  • Hips: The majority of the forward motion should start with the hips. Each stride should feel natural - not too long or too short. Most people make the mistake of trying to take too long of stride.

  • Arms and hands: Arms should stay close to the body, with elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. While walking, the arms should keep in motion, swinging front to back in pace with the stride of the opposite leg. Remember to keep hands relaxed, lightly cupped with the palms inward and thumbs on top. Avoid clenching the hands or making tight fists.

  • Feet: With each step, land gently on the heel and mid-foot, rolling smoothly to push off with the toes. Be mindful about using the balls of the feet and toes to push forward with each step.

Note that the greatest benefits were in those who walked 3 mph or faster (“brisk” or “very brisk” pace), but those walking 2.0-2.9 mph (“normal” pace) also saw a protective benefit compared with those not walking regularly.

Do You Need to Take 10,000 Steps a Day?

You’ve probably heard that moving 10,000 steps a day is a healthy goal. Not a simple goal as many of us sit more than stand, thanks to driving cars, sitting at office desks, and reclining in chairs at home; in fact the average number of daily steps a person takes is closer to 4,800. It may surprise you that the benchmark number of 10,000 is not actually based on science but was created as a marketing tactic in the 1960s by a company making pedometers.

Many studies have confirmed that although taking more steps is good, the exact amount to see a health benefit will vary among individuals.

Bottom Line

While walking is a great form of exercise, we should move regularly throughout the day for optimal health. Walking for five minutes every hour goes a long way. It doesn't need to even be moderate intensity. Just move.

About the authors:

Madur & Anitha Jagannath are certified Nutrition Consultants, in addition to their professions in technology and human resources. When Madur started feeling lethargic and slowing down, he started exercising regularly, became conscious of healthy eating habits and nutrition. He is an avid runner and does half-marathons often. At Voyage to Wellness, they attribute our reputation to the lasting customer relationships they have developed throughout the years. They believe in health & wellness and being fit, at all stages of people's lives.

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