Walking is a physical activity that has numerous health benefits and is suitable for most people of all ages and physical conditions. As an endurance activity, it engages many of the body’s large muscle groups and can be performed at intensities sufficient to improve muscular and cardiovascular fitness. Walking, in fact, is recommended by the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans as an excellent way to meet the recommendation that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week.
Walking is a low-impact, low-risk form of physical activity. Injury rates for moderate-intensity walking exercise, for example, are one-third or less of those for running. Walking is also comfortable, convenient, adaptable, low-cost, and suitable for people of all fitness levels. Walking requires only a well-fitted pair of shoes with adequate cushioning and comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing. This article investigates the health benefits of walking, the criteria for effective walking programs, motivational strategies, and barriers to walking for exercise.
Walking on a regular basis can help prevent a variety of chronic diseases as well as promote fitness and well-being. Even a small amount of walking, such as that required for daily activities, can provide some benefits. Regular moderate-intensity, brisk walking for 150 minutes per week, on the other hand, provides the majority of the benefits listed here. Additional moderate-intensity walking of 150-300 minutes per week provides additional health benefits. Increasing the intensity of your walk to a vigorous level may also increase your benefits.
Potential benefits include the following:
- Increased aerobic fitness, aerobic capacity, and muscular fitness
- Lowered risk of cardiovascular disease at all ages
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved lipid profiles
- Improved glucose control and insulin sensitivity in individuals with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
- Better weight management and improved weight loss: During weight loss, walking helps maintain lean muscle mass.
- Potential contribution to preventing certain cancers such as breast and colon cancer
- Improved sense of well-being and potential to help decrease depression and anxiety
- Potential help in prevention of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis
- Potential for improved cognitive function
- Improved signs of aging in older adults, such as increased functional fitness and longevity
Effective Walking Programs
How much walking is required to reap the full range of health benefits? Extensive research indicates that any amount of walking is preferable to being sedentary. However, the evidence suggests that, up to a point, benefits are dose-related, as determined by frequency, intensity, and duration. According to physical activity guidelines, moderate-intensity, brisk walking for at least 150 minutes per week is sufficient to reap the majority of the health benefits. Walking sessions can last as little as 10 minutes. Such shorter sessions may be especially beneficial for sedentary individuals just starting a walking program, but they can help anyone add more activity to their daily lives. Walking on most days of the week, typically 5 days per week for 30 minutes per day, is also advised.
The pace at which you walk is also important. Guidelines recommend as a starting point moderate-intensity walking. In general, this is considered a brisk walk, with an average speed of 3 to 4 mph. Intensity, on the other hand, is a highly individualized measurement. A brisk walking pace for a sedentary person who is just starting to walk regularly will be much slower than a brisk walking pace for someone who has been walking for 3 months. As a result, using methods such as perceived exertion or target heart rate zone can help people get the most out of their efforts.
The “talk test” is also useful: individuals should be able to talk but not sing at moderate intensity. A vigorous-intensity session provides roughly the same benefit as a moderate-intensity session lasting twice as long. Walking at a fast pace, for example, is considered vigorous walking activity. Individuals with health conditions or those over the age of 65 should consult with their health care providers before beginning a walking program.
According to statistics, many people begin activity programs with zeal but abandon them after a short period of time. In fact, a doctor’s recommendation to start walking regularly is enough to get many people started. In a self-starting and self-directed program, however, staying motivated to continue can be a challenge. Several studies have shown that a variety of strategies can help motivate people to keep going.
Individuals who track their walking sessions and progress, for example, are more likely to stick with their programs. There are free online trackers available, such as ChooseMyPlate.gov. The use of a pedometer to track daily steps has also been shown to be beneficial for many people. In some studies, a goal of 10,000 steps per day has been shown to increase motivation and yield many health benefits comparable to those obtained by following time-based guidelines. Shared walking activities, such as walking the dog or walking with a walking partner, can also help to reinforce adherence. Several studies have found that walking outside in attractive settings such as natural parks or walking on a variety of routes may motivate greater adherence than indoor walking or outdoor walking in less picturesque settings.
The barriers to establishing a regular walking habit are similar to those identified for many physical activity programs. Concerns about the environment, particularly for the elderly, include unsafe neighborhoods and sidewalks. Older people typically have health concerns related to pre-existing medical conditions, pain, possible exhaustion due to a lack of rest, and physical limitations such as poor eyesight or difficulty walking. Enrolling in a health care facility–based program or a group indoor program may be strategies for some people to overcome these barriers.
A number of people report that lack of time, fatigue, and a lack of willpower or interest are barriers to walking on a regular basis. Adopting shorter, more frequent bouts of daily walking may aid in overcoming time constraints. Walking earlier in the day rather than later in the day may help you avoid fatigue. Sharing walking companions, joining walking and hiking clubs and activities, and varying walking routes have all been shown to increase interest and commitment in many people.