Where Does Walking Fit in Your Fitness Regimen?
In this fast-paced world of CrossFit, HIIT workouts, and ultramarathons, it may seem like the humble act of taking steps wouldn’t make much of a difference to your health. However, no sport provides a simpler, easier way to get started with exercise than heading out the door or to the treadmill and putting one foot in front of the other.
“When it comes to exercise, some is always better than none,” says Thomas Best, M.D., Ph.D., research director at the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute, and team physician for the Miami Hurricanes and Miami Marlins. “And when you start getting active, even with something as simple as walking, the benefits are universal, regardless of age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or any other defining factor.”
Regular walking is perfect for people who are inactive and need to incorporate more exercise into their routine.
“We know for a fact that of the ten leading causes of death, seven of them are related to inactivity,” he says. “So simply getting some activity to break out of that cycle is a great place to start.”
Moreover, at least in most cases, you likely don’t need any guidance or clearance to start walking.
“The American College of Sports Medicine changed its guidelines in 2018, and for the most part, it’s safe for you to start an exercise program even if you are physically inactive,” says Dr. Best.
Of course, if you have any underlying injuries or concerning medical conditions, you can always schedule a quick visit with your primary care provider before getting started.
Once you get started on regular walks, the benefits can be significant, says the National Institutes of Health.
Some of the research-backed health outcomes of regular walking include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease
- Stronger muscles and bones
- A healthier weight
- Improved mood and mental health
One of the best things about walking, adds the CDC, is its accessibility for most people. Walking doesn’t require expensive equipment or a membership to a fitness club. All you need is a decent pair of shoes, and you’re ready to start. You can also increase your pace and distance as you improve to reap even greater benefits.
How much walking is enough?
In recent years, people have focused on hitting a particular step count each day, such as 10,000 steps, to reach their health and fitness goals. Dr. Best acknowledges that this can be a nice way to keep tabs on your totals, but it’s not the most important metric for your overall health and fitness.
“I’ve seen some people get discouraged by the idea that they need to get, for example, 30 minutes of exercise five times a week,” he says. “But research has shown that breaking that up into smaller portions, such as 10 or 15 minutes more often, can provide the same benefit. So if you have a few minutes in the morning, during lunch or after work, those are great times to fit in a bit of exercise.”
Strong is also healthy.
While cardiovascular exercise is important, Dr. Best says that experts at major medical organizations have emphasized strength or resistance training in recent years. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans have recently been updated to include 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week and two days of muscle-strengthening activity.
“Keeping the bones and muscles strong can help prevent the injuries or falls that impact a lot of older people,” Dr. Best says. “You also don’t need a gym membership to work in resistance training. There are plenty of things you can do at home to stay strong as you get older.”
1. Interview with Thomas Best, M.D., Ph.D., team physician for the Miami Hurricanes and Miami Marlins and research director at the UHealth Sports Medicine Institute.
2. The Benefits of Walking, NIH, 2016, https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2016/03/benefits-walking
3. Walking, CDC, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/walking/index.htm
4. How much physical activity do adults need?, CDC, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
Wyatt Myers is a regular contributor for UHealth’s news service.