Walking is low-risk and easy way to get exercise into your routine

Walking is low-risk and easy way to get exercise into your routine

Hate the gym? Good news: Walking is good cardio exercise — if you go at a brisk pace of at least 3 miles per hour.

Here’s why walking is an easy, low-risk, and great way to exercise:

  • Except for a good pair of shoes, it won’t cost you a thing.
  • You can do it anytime, anywhere. No need to pack a gym bag or worry about showering later.
  • It’s low impact and gentle on your body, so it’s even good for people with arthritis or extra weight.
  • Walking in nature is especially good for your mental health. Studies show it boosts your mood and creativity and can even be a form of meditation.

To walk is to be human. We’re the only species that gets around by standing up and putting one foot in front of the other. In the 6 million years humans have been bipedal, our ability to walk upright has allowed humankind to travel great distances and survive changing climates, environments, and landscapes.   

But walking is more than just transportation — it also happens to be really good for us. Countless scientific studies have found that this simple act of moving our feet can provide a number of health benefits and help people live longer. In fact, a walking routine — if done properly — might be the only aerobic exercise people need.

But wait, there’s more! Regular cardio exercise can improve your mood, lower stress, give you more energy and stamina, and sharpen mental focus and memory. It can also help you keep off extra weight, improve your cholesterol, build stronger bones and muscles, and lower your risk of diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers. All that, and it can help you sleep better too.

How much to walk

Walking at least 3 miles an hour counts as moderate exercise. You’ll need 2.5 hours of this level every week, so many experts recommend 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you don’t have a fancy gadget, you’re going at the right pace if you can still carry on a conversation while walking but can’t sing a song. For most people, this is a sign that they’re in their target heart rate zone.

Starting on a walking workout

Your shoes should be lightweight, cushioned, and flexible enough to bend in your hands. If you have flat feet, high arches, or other needs, shop at a store shop with knowledgeable staff. Don’t forget some comfy socks that fit snugly.

Whether you’re walking outside or on a treadmill, go slow for a few minutes, then pick up the pace. Walk tall with your head up, stomach slightly tight, and shoulders relaxed. Your steps should feel natural and smooth, with your foot rolling from heel to toe. Don’t forget to cool down slowly.

More helpful tips

  • You don’t have to do all your steps in one go. Everything counts, whether it’s walking to your mailbox or going grocery shopping.
  • Block off walking time in your daily schedule. Treat it like a meeting so you won’t let it slide.
  • If your schedule is packed, even 10-minute power walks can help.
  • Ask a friend or co-worker to be your walking buddy – you’ll keep each other on track.
  • Music is motivating and keeps your pace steady, but make sure you can still hear traffic.
  • In bad weather, walk on a treadmill or in an indoor shopping mall.

Do You Really Need to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

But for the sake of efficiency — how much walking should one aim for? Public health experts have drilled into us the idea that we need 10,000 steps a day — or about five miles. But contrary to popular belief, this recommendation doesn’t come from science. Instead, it stems from a 1960s advertising campaign to promote a pedometer in Japan. Perhaps because it’s a round number and easy to remember, it stuck. Countries like the U.S. began to include it in broader public health recommendations. Today, it’s often a default step count to reach on walking apps on smartphones and fitness trackers.

Healthy adults should try to get in 10,000 steps over the course of a day. Sound like Mission Impossible? The key is to work your way up to that goal.

Since the 1960s, researchers have studied the 10,000-steps-a day standard and have turned up mixed results. Although clocking 10,000 steps or more a day is certainly a healthy and worthwhile goal — it’s not a one-size-fits-all fitness recommendation.

If you don’t move much at all, try for 2,000 steps a day at first and add 1,000 steps each week. Next, shoot for 5,000. If your goal is 3 miles a day, that’s about 6,000 steps (the actual distance will depend on your height and stride, or step length). You may be surprised at how quickly your steps add up.

In general, walking is a good exercise because it puts our large muscle groups to work, and has a positive effect on most bodily systems.

But picking up the pace might be a good idea. As with any exercise, the physical benefits one gains from walking depend on three things: duration, intensity, and frequency. Put simply: walk often, walk fast and walk long. The goal is to walk fast

While we know walking is good for the body, research is also beginning to reveal how it impacts brain function. Particularly, walking might be an effective way to slow or decrease the cognitive declines that come with growing older.

A study of older, sedentary adults found that walking for six months improved executive functioning, or the ability to plan and organize. Studies also have found that that walking and other aerobic exercises can increase the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in memory and learning.

Researchers think exercises like brisk walking might improve brain plasticity, or the ability to grow new neurons and form new synaptic connections.

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