Current physical activity guidelines recommend accumulating at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (or 75+ min. vigorous activity). There are many types of moderate intensity exercise, but one of the most common and most convenient forms is walking (1). Walking can be performed in a variety of settings. From quick walks on your lunch break to long hikes through the woods, walking gets you out and moving – and it’s free!
Walking is a great way to spend some quality time with friends and family while increasing your physical activity. A meta-analysis of the benefits of walking groups found that individuals who participated in walking groups showed improvements in blood pressure, resting heart rate, %body fat, aerobic capacity, depression, and physical function (2). I personally love walking and hiking in groups. I get to spend time outside, get some exercise, and be social! It’s a triple win!
There are also ways you can switch up your walking routine to increase the intensity. Speed walking and/or walking uphill can take your breath away and increase your heart rate in a jiffy! The American Diabetes Association found that interval walking (alternating 3 min. of fast walking with 3 min. of slow walking) improved physical fitness, body composition, and glycemic control greater than continuous walking (walking at a constant speed) (3).
One study put walking for exercise in a good perspective – walking can provide the same benefits as running if the same energy is being expended. This just means that a person would have to walk for longer than they would run to receive the same health benefits, but many of the same benefits can be met. Walking participants who expended the same amount of energy as running participants in the study decreased their risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes just as well as the runners (4).
Walking is also a great form of maintenance exercise. Individuals who walk weekly are much better at reducing long-term weight gain than those who don’t. It is dose dependent, so physical activity level and BMI will maintain better with increased walking volume (5). Of course you can maintain your health and fitness through other forms of exercise, but walking is a simple exercise for individuals to consistently perform throughout their lives.
If you are someone who doesn’t love to exercise and are having a hard time fitting physical activity into your day, try walking. Find a time you can walk consistently and keep at it. Get coworkers, friends, and family involved and motivate each other. Take hikes as a family on the weekends or go on a walk before dinner. Keep walking interesting by trying out new routes and exploring new areas. Change up your routine by adding in speed walking or by walking up and down some hills. For those of you who are just too busy, find 5-10 minutes a couple times a day to go out for a quick walk. Not only will it help increase your physical activity but it will give your mind a rest and invigorate you for the rest of the day.
What are you waiting for? Grab your shoes and walk yourself to health!
1. Berrigan, D., Carroll, D. D., Fulton, J. E., Galuska, D. A., Brown, D. R., Dorn, J. M., ... & Paul, P. (2012). Vital signs: walking among adults-United States, 2005 and 2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61(31), 595-601.
2. Hanson, S., & Jones, A. (2015). Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2014.
3. Karstoft, K., Winding, K., Knudsen, S. H., Nielsen, J. S., Thomsen, C., Pedersen, B. K., & Solomon, T. P. (2013). The effects of free-living interval-walking training on glycemic control, body composition, and physical fitness in type 2 diabetic patients a randomized, controlled trial. Diabetes care, 36(2), 228-236.
4. Williams, P. T., & Thompson, P. D. (2013). Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk reduction. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology, 33(5), 1085-1091.
5. Gordon-Larsen, P., Hou, N., Sidney, S., Sternfeld, B., Lewis, C. E., Jacobs, D. R., & Popkin, B. M. (2009). Fifteen-year longitudinal trends in walking patterns and their impact on weight change. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 89(1), 19-26.