Walking is one of the most effective and accessible forms of cardio exercise available. It’s low-impact, easy to do, affordable (all you need is a great pair of shoes), and often enjoyable — especially when paired with a great friend or playlist.
Plus, if you struggle with sugar cravings, research shows that a brisk 15-minute walk may help curb your cravings.
Here, we offer the lowdown on the many benefits of this most basic of cardio exercises, and explain how to use it to your health and fat-loss advantage.
Is Walking Cardio?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardio exercise is any activity in which you move your bigger muscle groups rhythmically for a sustained period of time, causing you to breathe more quickly and your heart to beat more rapidly. As you continue to do cardio exercise over time, you’ll strengthen your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Under the CDC’s definition, walking — specifically brisk walking — qualifies as cardio. As you walk, gauge your effort level on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 corresponds to sitting, while 10 corresponds to all-out physical effort. A brisk, moderate-intensity walk should feel like a 5 or 6.
Can You Lose Weight By Walking?
If you’re overweight, mostly sedentary, and/or new to exercise, walking is an easy and effective way to introduce physical activity into your daily routine. And even if you’ve been exercising for a while, adding more walks into your routine can increase your overall daily activity level, which is key for losing weight and keeping it off. Indeed, a long-term study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that walking helped people both lose and maintain weight during a 15-year period.
But exactly how many pounds you lose through walking — and how quickly you lose them — will depend on several factors, including your fitness level, eating habits, exercise intensity and frequency, body composition (ratio of lean mass to fat mass), and the intensity of your walks. Estimates from Harvard Medical School reveal that a 155-pound person can expect to burn roughly 149 calories during a 30-minute walk at a pace of 3.5 mph. But if that same person bumps up the pace to 4 mph, he/she will burn roughly 167 calories.
For best results, pair walking with healthy eating habits. Also, try to walk as much as you can during the day, as opposed to limiting physical activity to your planned workouts. A few easy ways to get more mileage out of your day: take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk during phone calls, park farther away, and take extra trips when carrying groceries into your house or apartment. See how else you might be able to squeeze more walking into your day.
After awhile, you may need to do more than simply walk to keep losing fat. If your results stall, take it as a sign it’s time to boost your exercise intensity. You can transition to running or cycling — and eventually high-intensity interval training (HIIT) once you’re fit enough — and incorporate other forms of exercise, such as strength training, in your weekly routine.
How Much Walking Should You Do Per Week?
To stay healthy, you should walk as often as possible, but at a bare minimum, follow the recommendations outlined by the CDC, which calls for at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity cardio, such as brisk walking, per week to improve overall health.
But don’t think you need to walk for hours in order to see benefits. If you can’t fit a long session into your schedule or you’re new to exercise, meet your walking quota by breaking your sessions into smaller, more manageable pieces (e.g., two or three 15-minute walks per day). Remember: Every little bit counts — especially if you keep your pace brisk.
Is Walking Better Than a Gym Workout?
Walking offers a handful of benefits you can’t get from a gym workout — it’s low-impact, free to do, and can be performed just about anywhere — but it isn’t necessarily better than going to the gym.
As mentioned previously, if you’re just beginning your fitness journey, walking is a great place to start. But even if you’ve progressed to the point where you need to move on to more vigorous forms of exercise — including those typically thought of as requiring a gym, such as strength training — you should still keep walking as much as possible. That’s especially true if your goal is weight loss, as increasing your overall daily activity (e.g., by walking more) can help keep your metabolism humming at a higher level.
In short, once you start walking more, don’t stop. It’s one of the easiest and most effective things you can do to improve your health and elevate your fitness level.