The Benefits of Walking—And 3 Workout Plans To Get You Going

Putting one foot in front of the other carries some serious benefits. 

There's a widespread belief that if your workout doesn't make you sweat through your sports bra, it's not worth doing. However, that's not the case. Gentler, low-impact workouts can be just as vital as hard-core exercise—and that's especially true of 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," explained 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
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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 need each week.

Here's more about walking, its benefits, and how you can get started.

What Are Some Benefits of Walking?

Walking has some significant health perks: Just one moderate or intense walk may be able to help with sleep and anxiety. Additionally, walking may help us stay mentally sharp (e.g., in memory, learning, and thinking).

In one study, researchers reported 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.

Walking may also alleviate some hormone-related symptoms that can crop up midlife. A 2020 review revealed that 91% of 77 different walking programs improved at least one menopause-related health issue.

What's more, walking can also be helpful in other ways, such as:

  • Decreasing blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Improving balance and heart health
  • Increasing metabolism and HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Helping weight management

Therefore, if walking isn't already a part of your workout regimen and it's accessible for you, you should add it to your routine.

walking-form

How To Get Your Walking Routine Started

With walking benefits in mind, you may consider the walking speed necessary to achieve those benefits. For example, if you're wondering how fast "brisk" is, "[the word] is intentionally vague because every body is different," said Bowman.

Therefore, move at a pace that raises your heart rate but doesn't leave you gasping for breath, suggested Bowman. That might be anywhere from a 12-minute 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% and 85% of your maximum heart rate according to your age.

Counting steps can be a way to measure your walking too. Though walking 10,000 steps has been recommended before, the sweet spot for a long, healthy life may be closer to 7,000 steps. 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.

If you're not into using fitness trackers or tracking steps in general, budget a half hour a day, suggested 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," said Bush.

On top of that, the recommended amount of moderately intense exercise is 150 minutes weekly—which you could achieve by walking 30 minutes at least five days a week.

If you're embarking on a new fitness regimen, a 30-minute walk is a "great entry point," said 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, said 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.

3 Ways To Help You Start Walking

Below are three different ways to work out and ensure you take a walk—with or without equipment.

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.

treadmill-workout

Four-Week Plan

Like planning when it comes to fitness? Then try a monthly walking challenge. You can use the plan to help you set a specific walking goal or to figure out the best times to add walking into your daily or weekly schedule if you have a busy one.

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. Just pick a playlist with the recommended beats per minute to keep your pace and give this routine a go. The basic moves include walking, side steps, kicks, and knee lifts.

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

First fast walk segment: 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

Second fast walk segment: 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

A Quick Review

Walking can help you stay healthy by helping your blood sugar, anxiety, sleep, memory, and weight management, among other aspects of health. Ways to gain health benefits from walking include monitoring your heart rate, counting your steps, or just making sure you try walking for at least 30 minutes daily.

You can also decide to plan out your walking schedule and take time to walk on a treadmill or somewhere outside. However you decide to walk, know it is one of the easiest ways to work on increasing your physical activity and improving your health.

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Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why walk? why not!

  2. Mendez Colmenares A, Voss MW, Fanning J, et al. White matter plasticity in healthy older adults: The effects of aerobic exercise. NeuroImage. 2021;239:118305. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118305

  3. Sydora BC, Turner C, Malley A, et al. Can walking exercise programs improve health for women in menopause transition and postmenopausal? Findings from a scoping review. Menopause. 2020;27(8):952-963. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000001554

  4. American Diabetes Association. The benefits of walking.

  5. MedlinePlus. Give your heart a workout.

  6. Paluch AE, Gabriel KP, Fulton JE, et al. Steps per day and all-cause mortality in middle-aged adults in the coronary artery risk development in young adults study. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(9):e2124516. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.24516

  7. Centers for Disease Control. Benefits of physical activity.

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