Heck yah, walking is an exercise and help get you in shape
If there’s one exercise that should win the gold for its impressive list of benefits — and minimal risks — it’s walking. People of all ages and fitness levels can get similar benefits running provides by doing walking workouts. It’s all in the technique.
The Health Benefits of Walking
Truth is, walking and running share numerous pros, with one main difference. “Although both activities work the same muscles and joints, burn calories, and strengthen the heart and lungs, they differ in impact,” says Juliet Kaska, a Los Angeles–based ACE- and NASM-certified personal trainer and the founder of Juliet Kaska’s Zen Fitness.
Running is a high-impact activity, which can strain the joints, ligaments, and tendons, Kaska says. That’s why walking can be a fantastic option when runners want to take a day off running but still do an aerobic workout.
The one downside of walking? “Walking takes more time to cover the same distance,” says Bonnie Stoll, a personal trainer in Los Angeles and a cofounder of EverWalk, a movement designed to get people walking more. You may burn more calories after 30 minutes of running than 30 minutes of walking. But depending on your speed, you can get similar effects from walking three miles as running three miles; the biggest difference being that walking is low impact.
What does the science say about the health benefits of walking?
One benefit is longer life. Just by walking at a pace that makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty, you may lower your risk of heart disease and death from all causes than with regular walking at a more leisurely pace, according to a study published in May 2018 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. That same brisk walking can also lower your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes as much as running, according to other research.
Over time, science has found a link between walking and improved cognitive function and lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, such as in study published in January 2018 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
A study published in October 2019 in the journal Sleep Health found that simply taking more steps during the day was linked to improved sleep quality (and more so for women than for men).
Walking can also help prevent bone loss that happens naturally as a result of age, particularly if you up the intensity of your steps by climbing stairs, pick up the pace, or add bodyweight exercises (like push-ups or squats) throughout your walk, according to Mayo Clinic.
The mental benefits of walking are equally impressive (which should come as no surprise given that exercise overall is one of the top ways to manage stress). Walking is indeed a great stress reliever, Kaska says. A study published in March 2019 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, for example, showed that people who participated in at least one group walk in nature per week saw positive effects when it came to managing stressful life events and improving mental well-being.
Research has even shown that walking can improve creative thinking, even more so when the walk is done outside.
How to Make Walking a Workout
Fortunately, walking for fitness comes with almost no learning curve. It's different from a casual stroll with your best friend or dog, but it's easy to do with some extra attention to your speed and form.
Increase Walking Speed
If you want to boost that fitness, studies show that brisk walking is best, and of course, “brisk” will depend on your current fitness level. If you’re new to walking for fitness or exercise overall, shoot for a 20-minute mile to start, Stoll says. Otherwise, see if you can move at a 15-minute-mile pace.
Another way to gauge your speed and intensity: Pay attention to your breathing. If you’re walking briskly, you should be breathing heavier, but still able to carry on a conversation, according to the American Heart Association.
Practice Proper Walking Form
Make sure you’re using a heel-toe motion in your feet.
Hold your arms at 90-degree angles and pump them forward and back, not across our body. “As you increase your elbow pump, your feet will follow,” Stoll says, adding that if you swing them across your body, it may impede your speed.
Now get a baseline reading of how long it takes you to walk a mile. Head to a track and log the time it takes you to complete one lap, usually one-quarter mile. Do a second lap and see if you can walk just five seconds faster, Stoll says.
How to Make Walking a Higher-Intensity Workout
Even though walking is a relatively basic activity, that doesn’t mean you can’t get more from your walks by bumping up the intensity. Here are four ways to do it.
• Walk up and down hills. To help build strength and stamina, find a hilly route to walk, or do hill repeats, walking up and down one hill several times in a row. Just keep some form tips in mind. “Lean forward slightly when walking uphill,” Kaska says. And because going downhill can be hard on the knees, take shorter steps, keep your knees slightly bent and slow your pace.
• Do intervals. Intervals alternate between periods of high-intensity work and periods of recovery. You can do it by walking as fast as you can for a given amount of time, and then slowing down the pace. Try, for instance, walking for two or three minutes at a moderate intensity and then going fast for one minute. Or if it’s easier, alternate one minute of fast and one minute of slower walking. If going by the clock is too cumbersome, then use visible markers like mailboxes or trees and speed up between every fourth and fifth mailbox or tree, Stoll says.
• Choose different terrains. Pavement is always a good choice but try to try other surfaces. “You can burn more calories by walking on grass or gravel than a track,” Kaska says. Bonus? If you live near a beach, hit the sand and you’ll increase that calorie burn.