There is a simple activity that you do every day — one you don’t even think about — that is actually one of the easiest forms of exercise. Though it may not register when you think about a cardio workout, walking for fitness is a great way to get your heart pumping and improve your overall health and well-being.
If you don’t have any interest in becoming a runner, the good news is you don’t have to run to get a sufficient workout. More than a way to get from point A to point B, walking just 30 minutes a day is enough to meet current exercise guidelines — and take a minute to slow down in our fast-paced world.
Here are five simple reasons walking is one of the best workouts you can do:
IT IS ONE OF THE MOST ACCESSIBLE FORMS OF EXERCISE
There is no exact date when a baby will take its first steps, though most are doing so by their first birthday. Because it is an activity that is such an integral part of our everyday lives, it is understandable to forget that it is, in fact, exercise. When it comes to cardio, our first thought often goes straight to running, even though walking is its foundation.
“For many of my clients, because of age or ability, running is not even an option,” explains Barry Bouthilette, The Walking Coach and author of “Feel the Zest: 89 Ways to Be Fully Energized.” “The beautiful thing is that walking doesn’t require any special skill, is wonderfully accessible to most people and can be done just about anywhere, anytime.”
Walking is one of the most uncomplicated workouts there is — no equipment or fee required — and it is all you need to meet the physical activity guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
IT CAN BE JUST AS EFFECTIVE AS RUNNING
As stated above, walking is often thought of as a lesser workout than running. However, it can be just as effective if done right.
“Walking is our default gait; we are born to walk,” reminds Judy Heller, personal trainer, walking coach and owner of Wonders of Walking. “The definition of ‘pedestrian’ is dull and ordinary. If everyone can do it, it seems to minimize the benefits of the act of walking.”
Bouthilette points out that while walking demands less from our cardiovascular system, “it can be as effective as running when it comes to promoting cardiovascular health and burning calories.” To achieve these benefits, you must walk at a fairly high intensity, which will vary from person-to-person. Bouthilette advises clients focus less on time, mileage and heart rate and simply walk for exercise by feel.
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“If you are more aware of your lungs and heart and leg muscles during a walk, that’s a good sign,” he adds. “It means you’re digging deep enough to derive some health benefits from the activity. If we feel better after a walk than before started, we’re onto something healthy. No rocket science here.”
IT CARRIES A LOW INJURY-RISK
There is a risk of injury when walking as no activity is immune, however, many injury statistics note distracted walking — such as looking down at a smartphone — and, according to the National Safety Council, pedestrian fatalities involving a motor vehicle, as the main concerns.
Just as with any type of workout, you need to be mindful of not doing too much, too soon and gradually incorporate walking for fitness into your daily routine. If you are balancing your routine with other forms of exercise, such as yoga, spin or weight lifting, keep that in mind when setting your goals and mileage for the week.
“Dramatic increases in distance or speed can lead to injury or illness,” notes Heller. “Remember doing too much too soon can lead to an unnecessary injury … If you tend to push yourself and discover you do not feel up to a workout, that is OK; take the day off. Rest is just as important as training and it may do you some good.”
According to Harvard Medical School, walking 5–6 miles over the course of a week can even ease joint pain and arthritis flare ups. Keeping your body moving with such a low-impact activity is a great way to keep joints loose and prevent stiffness throughout the body.
IT IS A VERSATILE WORKOUT
Walking may seem like a pretty static workout, however, you can increase the difficulty quite easily. For example, Bouthilette mentions the mantra, “the more hills, the better, baby!” Just as with running, switching up the terrain can do a world of wonders for your fitness level and also help make each workout feel fresh and new.
“You can increase the intensity of your walking by using your arms to walk faster, walk hills for endurance or even take stairs to increase resistance and improve muscle toning,” explains Heller. “A key benefit is that it can be done for leisure, health, fitness or competition — fast walking and Olympic-style racewalking. Do not train the same distance, same pace or the same course every day.”
Even though walking is a mainstay of your day, remember even stepping on the treadmill and increasing the incline can boost the cardiovascular difficulty and build up a strong base.
IT BENEFITS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Studies have found that spending time in nature can have marked positive effects on your mental health. Physical activity is known to reduce anxiety and depression, and walking for exercise is a simple way to get moving and take advantage of those benefits.
READ MORE > 7 BENEFITS TO GETTING OUT IN NATURE
“Walking — physical activity in general — is a true ‘keystone’ activity,” shares Bouthilette. “It can have a great ripple effect because we usually feel more energetic after walking, as well as motivated to take on other challenges in life. I can’t think of two more important reasons to keep on walking.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes that 16 million adults in the U.S. have at least one major depressive episode in a year’s time. Taking 30 minutes out of your day — especially on your lunch break to step away from your desk and the stressors of work — to go for a walk can help boost your mood and decrease daily anxieties.