Walking Is One of the Best Cardio Workouts for the Body, Here’s Why

Dad and daughter walking

Getty Images / Nutthaseth Vanchaichana

There are many small habits that help the body feel its best. Two of which include movement and fresh air. Or in short, a walk outside.

If you need exercise and sunlight, walking could be the perfect workout for you. Walking is simple and usually accessible, making it an excellent option for almost anybody. No special skills, equipment, or memberships required—just find a trusty pair of athletic sneakers and an environment you enjoy.

Read on for the benefits of walking, a sample walking workout plan, and walking best practices.

Benefits of Walking   

An hour of walking may not feel as intensive as an hour in the gym, but it is still a valuable method of exercise. Walking has the potential to improve both your mental and physical health. Additionally, it can help you get a closer relationship with your environment and community. 

Improves Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular training is meant to keep your heart healthy and improve your body’s use of oxygen. By walking, you are helping your body learn to use oxygen more efficiently. You can see the results of this as you can walk farther and farther without feeling out of breath.

Walking reduces many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Recent studies have found that walking increases aerobic capacity, meaning that it helps your body use oxygen more efficiently.

Walking has also been found to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as body fat percentage. All of these are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

If you believe you are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, consult a healthcare professional.

Reduces Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

If you experience stress, anxiety, or depression regularly, your doctor may have recommended exercising regularly. Thankfully, going on walks is an excellent way to achieve this goal while enjoying some fresh air.

While this advice may sound repetitive, studies have proven walking does help to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms.

Studies have found that walking every day can increase the frequency of a positive mood and improve your overall mental health. This is especially important for people who experience depression.

Many studies have suggested that walking helps reduce depression symptoms, particularly if you do it outside and get some sunlight. A lack of sunlight is directly related to many cases of depression, especially if the person has Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Walking every day can also help to alleviate stress and anxiety. This effect, while not necessarily immediate, can often be seen quickly after you've taken your walk.

This means that you may feel less stressed after even just one walk, especially if you combine your walking habits with other relaxation techniques. However, studies have shown that high-intensity exercises best alleviate anxiety symptoms.

This means that a short walk may not affect anxiety symptoms as much as other physical activities like longer walks, speed-walking, jogging, or running.

Encourages Better Sleep

Engaging in forms of exercise has been known to help people sleep better. But this does not mean you need to do an intense workout to accomplish a good night's rest.

A study about low-impact physical activity, specifically walking, proved that the amount of time a person spends being active in a day is directly related to their quality of sleep. However, it should be noted that being active only improved the quality of sleep, not the duration.

May Lower Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar, and Cholesterol

While it has been noted that walking reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, there are other physical health benefits, as well. Lowering blood pressure, controlling blood sugar, and controlling cholesterol can help to reduce the risk of high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension.

Walking is known to reduce many of these risk factors, which means that walking can help you live a longer, healthier life. However, it should be noted that the best results were noticed when studying moderate-intensity walks or runs.

Strengthens Bones and Muscles

It’s important to keep your bones and muscles healthy to reduce the risk of bone loss, arthritis, joint pain, and other health problems as you get older.

That’s why it is essential to exercise; the sooner you begin this habit, the sooner your body will feel the effects. Walking every day is an excellent way to keep your bones and muscles healthy.

You may be wondering how exercise can affect your bones. Exercise is primarily good for your joints, but there is ongoing research to determine if exercise can also affect bone density. This research is vital for people with osteoporosis or bone loss. It is also relevant to post-menopausal women. Exercise cannot increase bone density, but it is believed that it can help to slow down or prevent bone loss.

Sample Walking Workout

Here is a sample walking workout provided by Carol Espel, MS, Director of Fitness at Pritikin Longevity Center.

  • 5 minutes of stretching
  • 30 minutes of walking
  • 5 minutes of stretching

Of course, she recommends working your way up to this fitness level. To begin, Espel suggests getting used to going outdoors every day.

Start with however many minutes of walking is comfortable, and work your way up to 40 minutes (or more). Regardless of your fitness level, you should always stretch before and after walking. 

"Try walking briskly at a 3 mph pace (walking a mile in 20 minutes), beginning with 10 minutes per day for the first three weeks. Slowly increase the time you walk by 5 minutes per week until you are able to walk 30 minutes a day, six days a week," says John Higgins, MD, a sports cardiologist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Walking Best Practices 

It is important to consider safety, weather, and your body when going on walks. Here are some best practices. 

Walking Safety Tips

If you are walking along a road, choose a street with sidewalks. Depending on where your home is, it may be safer to go to a different location to walk. You can walk along roads or trails.

If you are near a road and there are no sidewalks, the New York government page for Pedestrian Safety recommends that you walk on the same side as oncoming traffic, as far out of the way as possible.

If you are worried about walking alone, you should ask a trusted friend to go on walks with you. This is safer for many reasons, but mainly because you will not be alone if anything happens. A friend could call for help if you need it.

The Heart Foundation also recommends walking with a friend because it can provide structure, keep you motivated, and create good experiences. Be sure that both of you bring a phone and ID. If it is dark outside, you should both wear reflective clothing.

Espel recommends wearing visible and reflective gear, especially when walking in the early morning and evening. Texting "isn't worth the risk to fall off of the curb and get an ankle sprain," she advises.

Walking Equipment

When going on a walk, it is important to have the correct gear. First of all, you will need comfortable shoes. Wearing running sneakers is often recommended because they have no heels and soft padding to cushion your feet.

"If you struggle with knee hip or ankle pain it is important to have a pair of supportive shoes that will support your arches as you walk; especially if you are walking for extended periods," says Johanna Sophia, certified personal trainer, BSc., Kinesiology.

Make sure to bring a bottle of water to avoid heatstroke and fatigue. If you are going on a long walk or hike, it is a good idea to pack snacks, too. Your body needs energy to perform, so being fatigued or hungry will affect your body negatively.

The National Institute of Health recommends fruits, veggies, lean protein, and whole grains. Depending on the weather, you may also need a coat, hat, or gloves. If you are worried about the weather changing, you could bring a larger backpack for your jacket and accessories.

Who Should Walk for Exercise? 

Walking is a good form of exercise for almost anyone, regardless of age or fitness level. However, you should talk to your doctor if you have a chronic health problem, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or a heart condition.

For some people, exercise can be a difficult hurdle. If you need motivation, consider bringing a trusted friend, a well-behaved pet, or some music along on your walks. If you cannot walk, you should talk to your doctor about alternative cardio-based workouts.

A Word From Verywell Fit 

Always consider the advice of a healthcare professional when exercising, regardless of the form of exercise. A doctor can provide valuable advice regarding both exercise and your overall health.

See a healthcare professional immediately if you experience dizziness, shortness of breath, light-headedness, or pain during a walk.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long should I walk for cardio?

    It's advised for adults to get 150 minutes of exercise each week. Splitting your walk up over the course of seven days makes this target achievable and realistic.

  • What happens if you walk every day for a month?

    If you walk every day for a month, your fitness level may increase. Physical activity can help your bones, muscles, cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and more, but results are not always visible after a month.

  • What muscles are toned by walking?

    Walking mostly engages your quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, and hip adductors. It also affects your gluteal and abdominal muscles.

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17 Sources
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