Have you ever watched the trusty power walkers in your neighborhood go by each night and admired their dedication? Perhaps you thought they looked a little comical, but you might also have wondered if that could be an effective and relatively painless way to get your exercise in for the day.
Walking is enough if it is combined with strength and flexibility exercises. It can also be more effective if your walking is done at a brisk pace at least 4 times a week. However, walking is not enough exercise completely on its own.
In this article, we will explain why walking is not quite enough physical activity without any supplements, outline the benefits of walking and explore the methods for maximizing your walking workouts. Equipped with the information in this article, you might just be ready to leave the painful days of high-impact running behind you, lace up your walking shoes and join those speed walkers in your neighborhood.
Table of Contents
Caveats of Using Walking as Your Primary Exercise
Walking does improve cardiovascular endurance, but it does not increase muscle strength, flexibility, agility or balance. Therefore, walking is not quite enough exercise just by itself. However, walking is beneficial physical activity for four days of the week if it is combined with two or three days of strength training and flexibility.
People need 150 minutes of medium-intensity activity or 75 minutes of strenuous exercise every week, per the Health Survey of England, which found that only 66 percent of men and 58 percent of women in a study were meeting that standard.
Walking should not be used an excuse to do as little exercise as possible. Research from the Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Review discovered in a survey that only 26 percent of people who walk for exercise walked quickly enough to reach the necessary moderate intensity level. Furthermore, only 34 percent walked the recommended amount of four times per week or more.
It is important to note that vigorous activities such as running and playing sports do achieve the same health benefits much faster—for every one minute of vigorous activity, you have to do 3.5 minutes of walking, meaning that walking for 56 minutes a day would be the same as running for only 16 minutes.
However, running puts a great deal of strain on your muscles and joints, so if you have old injuries or health conditions that prevent you from running, or it is simply not your preferred form of exercise, walking for a longer amount of time is an excellent alternative.
Benefits of Walking
In this video, Dr. Michael Grace M.D. explains how walking 30-60 min a day can help both your health and weight loss management.
If you walk at least 30 minutes a day at a moderate level on four days each week, there are several health benefits to be gained. Best of all, these 30 minutes a day do not even need to be consecutive—if you do not have time to do all the minutes together and have to break the walking into 10-minute segments throughout the day, you can still reap all of the benefits.
In fact, research from Circulation found that, out of 7,000 men, those who worked out in segments of 15 minutes were just as healthy as the men who completed their workout in a single session.
Below are some of the many benefits of walking.
Improved Mood and Digestion
Walking can improve your mood and digestion—for example, walking with a friend or in the sunlight can reduce depression and seasonal affective disorder. Walking with someone also helps you stay accountable and motivated.
Walking can decrease risks of diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
Long walks are the most effective for disease prevention—an hourlong walk once or twice a week will greatly improve your chances of reducing the risk of disease. Walking often reduces blood pressure by as many as 11 points and possibly lowers the chance of a stroke by 20 to 40 percent.
According to The New England Journal of Medicine, people who walked enough to meet recommended physical activity levels had a 30 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than people who do not walk often.
Weight Loss and a Healthier Brain
Walking can lead to weight loss over time if combined with healthy eating. It can even improve your creativity and problem-solving skills.
Alleviation of Joint Pain
Although the impact of stepping on pavement might seem harmful to your joints, walking actually might help reduce joint pain, as it causes blood to flow to tense areas and strengthens muscles around the joints.
In the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, a study found that, out of 1,564 adults older than 49 with joint pain in their lower body, the people who walked an hour every week had better mobility than those who did not.
Strangely enough, walking can even improve your immunity. A study from Arthritis Research and Therapy found that high-intensity interval walking over the course of 10 weeks helped improve immune function in adults who are older and struggle with rheumatoid arthritis. Walking also helps people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease reduce their risk of morbidity and mortality, according to research from Chronic Respiratory Disease.
Walking might even help you live longer. Research from the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people from the ages of 70 to 90 who went outside and were physically active lived longer than people who did not.
Lastly, walking regularly can help you sleep because it reduces stress and pain that might keep you awake. One study in Sleep discovered that women past menopause who do light or moderate physical activity sleep better than women who are sedentary.
How to Maximize the Benefits of Walking
Keep an Eye on Your Speed
Focus on quality as well as quantity—walking fast enough to get to 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
“For most fit people, walking on flat ground is not intense enough to optimize fitness improvement,” ACSM-certified personal trainer and corporate director of exercise physiology Mike Siemens told Pop Sugar.
Basically, you need to be walking at a quick pace of at least three and a half miles an hour—or, in other words, 15 minutes per mile.
Add in Strength Exercises
One way to maximize your walking workout each day is to stop every four or five minutes to complete 10 or more strength exercises, such as push-ups or squats. You can also supplement walks with two days of yoga or resistance training.
You should always take the time to warm up before you walk because it will help with flexibility and cause your heart to start pumping. Stretching after your walk will also keep your muscles loose and prevent injury.
Conquer Some Hills
If you can, try to walk in an area with a few hills to add some resistance training to your walks, or use a hill setting on a treadmill if you have access to one.
Make Use of Intervals
You can also add intervals for extra calorie burning. After three minutes of warming up, try walking for 25 minutes alternating between a minute of walking as fast as you can go and one minute of brisk walking, cooling down for two minutes afterward.
Increase Your Steps
You should also be increasing your number of steps. The tried and true 10,000 steps a day is just a baseline—try to increase that by 2,000 steps and once you get comfortable with that amount, increase by another 2,000 steps.
Vary Your Routine
Once you find a walking workout that works, do not get too comfortable—vary your workout to build more muscle and burn more calories. Instead of following the same route at the same pace, throw in a few extra difficult days, a few interval days, a long slow day and an easy day.
In this article, we have outlined the benefits of walking as well as methods for maximizing those benefits in order to make walking your primary form of exercise if you so choose. To summarize, here are a few of the main points:
- Walking is not enough exercise solely by itself, but combined with strength and flexibility exercises throughout the week, it is a suitable workout.
- Walking needs to be done at least 30 minutes a day at a pace of at least three and a half miles an hour (or 15 minutes per mile) on four days each week.
- Walking does not have to be done for 30 consecutive minutes—it can be broken up into 10-minute intervals and still be just as effective.
- Intervals and hills will make walking workouts more effective, as will increasing your steps and varying your daily walking routine.
- The benefits of walking regularly include improved mood and digestion, disease prevention, weight loss, a healthier brain, alleviation of joint pain, a stronger immune system, better sleep and a longer life.