Walking may be the most underrated form of exercise. Turns out, putting one foot in front of the other carries some serious benefits. 
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There's a popular belief that if your workout doesn't make you sweat through your sports bra, it's not worth doing. But that's hogwash, experts say. Gentler workouts can be just as vital as hard-core exercise— and that's especially true for a good old-fashioned daily walk. 

Our bodies crave movement every day. "Walking is an accessible way of [staying active], of keeping the blood flowing, utilizing energy, and stretching our muscles," explains biomechanist Katy Bowman, MS, cocreator of the online program Walking Well. "Walking is the daily servings of vegetables in our fitness diet." 

Change of Pace Walking Workout , Young woman running by the beach
Credit: Getty Images

And when you want to push yourself, you can get your heart rate up by climbing hills or following an interval regimen. Adding a challenge can turn your walk into the moderate-to-intense activity our bodies also require three to five days a week. Plus, walking has some major health perks: Research suggests a regular routine can boost immune function and reduce stress (yes, please!). It may also alleviate some hormone-related symptoms that can crop up midlife. A 2020 review of studies in the journal Menopause revealed that 91 percent of 77 different walking programs resulted in the improvement of at least one menopause-related health issue. 

Walking workouts may even help us stay mentally sharp. In October 2021, researchers reported in the journal NeuroImage that just 40 minutes of brisk walking three times a week was enough to improve signaling in the brain's white matter, the deterioration of which is associated with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease.

Wondering how fast "brisk" is? "[The word] is intentionally vague because every body is different," says Bowman. Move at a clip that raises your heart rate but doesn't leave you gasping for breath, she suggests. That might be anywhere from a 12-minute mile to a 20-minute mile (or 3–4.5 MPH on a treadmill at a 1.0 incline). If you have a heart rate monitor, aim for between 50 percent and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

walking-form

Set Your Goal

You know the familiar advice to take 10,000 steps a day? That target may have originated as a marketing ploy to sell pedometers in the 1960s. The sweet spot for a long, healthy life may be closer to 7,000, according to a large study published in 2021 in JAMA Network Open. The researchers found that people who took more than 10,000 steps a day did not have any greater reductions in mortality risks than those taking at least 7,000 steps daily.

Not into trackers? Budget a half hour a day, suggests Jewel Bush, chief of external affairs for GirlTrek, a nonprofit that inspires Black girls and women to go for daily walks for self-care. "Thirty minutes is the baseline amount of exercise that produces benefits," says Bush.

Science backs her up. For a recent study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers looked at the fitness habits of more than 8,000 Danish adults who had joined a long-term study on heart health in the 1990s, and then checked their names against death records. They found that the people who had reported taking part in a physical activity between 2.6 and 4.5 hours per week—which is about 30 to 45 minutes most days—when they joined the study were 40 percent less likely to have died, compared to less active people.

If you're embarking on a new fitness regimen, a30-minute walk is a "great entry point," says Bush. "You don't need special equipment. You don't need to join a gym. And we find that after a while, women who have been walking for 30 minutes wonder, 'What if I trained for a 5K, or changed my diet, or went for a hike?' It's a gateway."

Walking is also a whole-body activity, says Bowman. "When your legs move, there's a reciprocal arm swing." You can work different joints and muscles by varying your terrain. And walking is weight-bearing, meaning it's good for your bones. Ready to lace up? We've got workouts, pro advice, and more to help you make the most of every step. —KD

Put a Little Pep in Your Step

Hop on the treadmill to do this walking interval workout from Raj Hathiramani, RRCA-certified run coach for workout app Aaptiv and Mile High Run Club in New York City. It alternates between leisurely and brisk paces, helping you adapt your efforts physically and mentally to build endurance. —AS

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Four-Week Plan

Like planning ahead when it comes to fitness? Then try a monthly walking challenge. "This plan will have you walk- ing longer and faster by the end of the month, with weekly workouts that help build your speed and stamina," says Stanten. Make sure to listen to your body when following the walking schedule. "If there's ever a day where you feel like you need to do less than the plan states, do less," Stanten says. "It's better to take it easy or do a shorter walk rather than skipping walking entirely." —AS

4wk-walking-plan

Walk From Home 

You can step it up from your living room with this workout from Celina Pompeani, ACE-certified trainer and fitness leader for the Walk at Home program based in Pittsburgh. (Catch its streaming classes by downloading the app on walkathome.com.) Just pick a playlist with the recommended beats per minute to keep your pace (Spotify has several bpm playlists available!) and give this routine a go. The basic moves include walking, side steps, kicks, and knee lifts. —AS 

WARM-UP: 5 minutes, pace: 138 beats per minute (bpm) 

  • 60 seconds: Walk in place at a warm-up pace 
  • 30 seconds: Side steps (step right and bring left foot to touch, then step left and bring right foot to touch) 
  • 45 seconds: Walk 
  • 30 seconds: Kicks (straight out) 
  • 45 seconds: Walk 
  • 30 seconds: Knee lifts (alternating, bringing knee close to chest) 
  • 60 seconds: Walk 

FAST WALK SEGMENT 1: 9 minutes, brisk pace: 145 bpm 

  • 30 seconds: Power walk (pick up the pace and swing your arms) 
  • 45 seconds: Double side steps (2 steps right, 2 left) 
  • 15 seconds: Power walk 
  • 45 seconds: Kicks 
  • 15 seconds: Walk 
  • 45 seconds: Walk forward 2 steps, back 2 steps 
  • 15 seconds: Walk 
  • 45 seconds: Knee lifts 
  • 15 seconds: Walk 
  • 45 seconds: Side steps 
  • 15 seconds: Walk 
  • 45 seconds: Skaters (jump to the right, bringing left leg behind right, then jump to the left, putting right leg behind left) 
  • 15 seconds: Walk 
  • 45 seconds: Double side steps 
  • 15 seconds: Walk 
  • 15 seconds: Power walk 
  • 45 seconds: Kickbacks (bring foot toward butt) 
  • 30 seconds: Walk 

FAST WALK SEGMENT 2: 10 Minutes, brisk pace: 145 bpm 

  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Walk up 4 steps, back 4 steps
  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Kicks
  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Side steps
  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Double side steps
  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Walk up 4 steps, back 4 steps
  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Kicks
  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Double side steps
  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Walk up 4 steps, back 4 steps
  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Kickbacks
  • 15 seconds: Power walk
  • 45 seconds: Side steps

COOL DOWN: 5 minutes, slow pace: 128 bpm 

  • 1 minute: Walk in place and roll shoulders
  • 1 minute: Mini side steps
  • 1 minute: Walk
  • 2 minutes: Stretch

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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By Kelly DinardoHannah Harper and Amy Schlinger