The Health Benefits of Slow Walking

Senior Walking Club Group Walk
Walking Club Group Walk. Christopher Futcher/E+/Getty Images

Many walkers who move slowly (for a variety of reasons) want to know whether they are getting any benefit. Walking slowly burns calories and may also save wear and tear on the joints of those who are obese.

Burn More Calories per Mile at 2 MPH

Research into metabolic equivalents, measuring how much energy was actually expended at different walking speeds per minute, had some unexpected findings. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder confirmed that people burn more calories per mile walking a very leisurely 2 miles per hour than walking a moderate to brisk 3 to 4 miles per hour.

Researcher Ray Browning also noted a surprise result: Obese people have modified their body movement so that they are energy-efficient walkers. While they burn more calories per mile due to moving more weight over that distance, the calories burned per pound of body weight was similar to lean people.

Why Do You Burn More Calories at Low Speed?

When you walk slowly, you lose the efficiency of already being in motion—momentum, as one step is the springboard to the next step. This makes your muscles work a little harder with each step. You are not an efficient walking machine when you are walking at less than the natural stride rate.

However, it is important to note that if you plan to walk for a designated period of time (such as 30 minutes) you'll burn fewer calories walking slowly than you would walking at a faster because you'll cover a shorter distance. That is, you might burn more calories per mile, but you'll walk fewer miles. So if your goal is to burn more calories walking and you are able to walk faster, then a quicker pace will be more effective

But that doesn't mean that walking slowly has no merit. If you replace slow walking with a more sedentary activity, then the calorie increase can be helpful. For example, if you usually sit at a desk during your workday, but instead choose to walk slowly using a treadmill desk for a few hours, you'll burn more calories.

Slower Walking Is Easier on the Joints

More good news is that strolling slower also reduces the loads on the knee joints by 25 percent. This can be an important factor as obese people take up an exercise program to burn calories while reducing the risk of injury. "The message is that by walking more slowly, obese individuals can burn more calories per mile and may reduce the risk of arthritis or joint injury," said Ray Browning in a press release.

Walk Slower With Fitness Poles and Burn More Calories

If you want to challenge yourself during a walking workout but are unable to walk faster, you can try walking with poles. Walking with fitness poles has a similar effect, it burns more calories per mile while taking the pressure off of the knees and joints. If you want to raise your heart rate into the moderate-intensity zone but have difficulty doing it at your usual walking speed, adding poles may be the answer.

Add Low-Impact Cardio Exercise to Raise Heart Rate

Slower walking has a drawback; it doesn't give the aerobic training effect produced by walking fast enough to raise the heart rate into the moderate-to-vigorous intensity zone recommended to lower health risks. Browning recommends adding other vigorous-intensity lower-impact activities like swimming, cycling, step routines, and elliptical training workouts.

When you walk, discover a pace where you feel most comfortable and like you can walk easier and longer. That is your natural pace. Forcing yourself to walk slower or faster will feel unnatural. If you want to speed up, do so gradually and for just a few minutes at a time at first.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Browning RC, Kram R. Energetic cost and preferred speed of walking in obese vs. normal weight women. Obes Res. 2005;13(5):891-9.

  2. Shim JM, Kwon HY, Kim HR, Kim BI, Jung JH. Comparison of the Effects of Walking with and without Nordic Pole on Upper Extremity and Lower Extremity Muscle Activation. J Phys Ther Sci. 2013;25(12):1553-6. doi:10.1589/jpts.25.1553

Additional Reading
  • Ainsworth BE, Haskell WL, Herrmann SD, et al. 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(8):1575-1581. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31821ece12.
  • Browning R. "Energetic cost and preferred speed of walking in obese vs. normal weight women." Obesity Research, May 2005; vol 13: pp 891-899.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.