How Good of a Workout Is Walking, Really?
Walking is arguably one of the easiest, most accessible ways to get moving. But, if you’ve wondered, “Is walking good exercise?” you’re not alone.
After all, nowadays, it seems the most popular workouts are all about going hard, cranking up the intensity, and more or less being reduced to a shaking puddle of sweat — not really walking’s M.O.
That’s OK! No matter your fitness level or experience with exercise, you can gain some serious benefits from adding walking to your regular routine.
Is Walking a Good Way to Exercise?
Short answer: Yes!
Research shows that even small increases in your daily step count can significantly improve overall health. Here are some of the top reasons why walking is such good exercise.
- Cardiovascular health: Walking gets the heart pumping. In fact, calorie for calorie burned, moderate walking is just as beneficial at improving blood pressure, high cholesterol, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease as is running, per research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
- Diabetes risk and management: Regular, brisk walking can substantially reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For those with the chronic disease, walking can also improve glycemic control, according to research published in PLoS One. Walking makes use of the glucose, or sugar, floating through your bloodstream to help lower chronically high blood sugar levels.
- Brain function: Getting moving has large benefits for cognitive health. And research in stroke patients shows that moderate-intensity walking increases the body’s levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that supports brain health.
- Mood: Take a step to clear your head. In a small study of young adults, performing a 10-minute walk immediately and substantially improved mood. The study suggests that walking may function as a sort of active meditation.
- Bone strength: Walking is a weight-bearing activity, stressing the bones as well as the muscles, tendons, and ligaments connecting them for a more stable system. In fact, research shows that daily step count (along with body weight and the amount of force you put into the ground with each step) more accurately predicts bone density of the femur (your thigh bone) compared to traditionally used measures.
- Weight loss: Can walking help you lose weight? Most definitely! Also, it is very effective at helping improve blood sugar control. By lowering blood sugar levels and resulting insulin spikes, walking could be especially beneficial for helping maintain healthy levels of belly fat, also called abdominal or visceral fat. This type of fat is sensitive to blood sugar rises and can increase with insulin resistance.
Can You Lose Weight By Walking?
As long as walking is part of an overall lifestyle that creates a caloric deficit — in which you are consistently burning more energy per day than you’re consuming in your diet (all food and drinks) — you will lose weight.
The exact number of calories burned walking varies. While a person weighing 180 pounds will burn roughly 100 calories per mile on flat ground at an average walking speed, someone weighing 120 pounds will burn roughly 65 calories per mile at that same speed.
How does that play out in terms of helping you hit your weight-loss goals? In one 2017 study, when people followed a low-calorie diet, those who also walked at a moderate pace for 2 hours and 30 minutes per week lost an average of 19.4 pounds over the course of 12 weeks. Those who dieted alone lost 15.4 pounds in the same amount of time. The walkers also lost significantly more of their weight from fat as opposed to other sources like lean muscle.
Is Walking 30 Minutes Per Day Enough Exercise?
Walking is a low- to moderate-intensity form of aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. United States federal guidelines recommend that, for overall health, adults perform at least 2½ to 5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. That equates to walking 30 minutes five times per week at minimum up to 60 minutes five times per week. At that pace and frequency, you can cover 10 to 20 miles of walking in a week!
Research from the National Cancer Institute shows that people who get this amount of activity lower their risk of death by 31 percent compared to those engage in no leisure-time activity. Impressive, no?
If that’s a little tight for your schedule, and it’s hard to find time to work out, the guidelines also note that, for overall health, you’ll need to spend less total time performing aerobic exercise if you increase the intensity.
They also recommend performing muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice per week. To incorporate strength training into your walks, consider wearing ankle weights, holding hand weights, or walking hills or putting your treadmill on an incline. You can also intersperse bodyweight exercises such as squats, incline push-ups on a bench, and lunges into your walks for further health benefits.