Trainers Say To Do These 3 Things To Level Up Your Walking Workout

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Walking is having a main character moment, and I'm so here for it! Between hot girl walks, Nordic walking, cozy cardio, and the 12-3-30 treadmill workout, a slow, steady pace is very in. And for good reason: Walking is an awesome, accessible workout and carries a slew of major health benefits.

First, let’s get technical. “A walk is when you have constant contact with the ground, according to the definition of the American Track and Field Programs,” says Bradee Felton, CPT, a certified personal trainer and holistic health coach. “It becomes a run as soon as both feet are off the ground at any time.”

Meet the expert: Bradee Felton, CPT, is a certified personal trainer, holistic health coach, and founder of Fit for Hiking and the Mountain Metabolic Method digital workout programs.

But, is walking good exercise? Yes, walking is excellent cardio (specifically, you hit a steady state zone 2). However, if it's the only type of workout you do each week, especially if building and maintaining muscles is on your list, you might be falling short. Hitting your steps is just one part of a holistic fitness routine.

You’ve likely heard walking 10,000 steps a day is the ideal goal (which equates to roughly five miles), but this isn’t necessarily true for everyone. “Walking 10,000 steps can be a great marker, but you want to make a goal that is good for you,” says Felton. “Are you currently walking only 1,000 steps all day and need a more realistic goal? Make it a goal to have 5,000 steps,” she explains. Start small and work your way up.

It’s also helpful to break up your step goal throughout the day and go for small 10-to-20-minute walks when possible, says Felton. Think pacing while on the phone, using stairs instead of the elevator, and using a walking pad while working, she explains. Instead of fixating on an exact number of daily steps, focus on creating a realistic and sustainable long-term habit for your lifestyle, she adds.

Ready to put some pep in your step? Ahead, an expert trainer breaks down whether walking is enough exercise, along with its major rewards and safety tips to get going.

8 Benefits Of Walking

  1. Elevate your mood. “Walking and taking deep breaths is a great way to slow your nervous system and get into a relaxed state,” says Felton. “It allows you to get outdoors, get sunshine, and simply change up your environment if you’re typically stuck inside working most of the day,” she explains. Her suggestion? Try adding a midday walk into your routine when you need a little mood boost.

  2. Reduce the risk of chronic disease. Walking can reduce your risk of a variety of chronic diseases including obesity, sleep apnea, hypertension, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), per a 2022 study published in Nature Medicine. The American Diabetes Association also recommends at least 30 minutes of daily walking to lower blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

  3. Increase low-impact movement. Walking puts less impact on your joints which is key for sustaining long-term walking habits and keeping you feeling good, says Felton. Plus, daily walking creates less of a barrier since it’s low-impact and easier on the body, she explains.

  4. Boost cardiovascular health. Walking creates a sustained increased heart rate which has major cardiovascular benefits, says Felton. For example, every 500 additional steps a day was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of heart disease, heart failure, and stroke, a recent 2023 study found. “Oftentimes, people think your heart rate only increases with running, but walking is also considered a steady state,” she adds.

  5. Exercise without increasing hunger. “Many forms of exercise simply make us hungrier, and we often believe we deserve more treats when we ‘burn off the calories,’ which can lead to unhealthy cycles with no progress,” says Felton. “Where running is known to work up an appetite, walking increases your total daily energy expenditure without driving up hunger hormones.”

  6. Support weight loss. If you’re on a weight loss journey, walking is a great way to help shed pounds, says Felton. “The higher your energy expenditure, the easier you will lose weight,” she explains. Walking can decrease visceral fat stored around your belly and reduce the risk of obesity, studies also show.

  7. Incorporate accessible movement throughout the day. “For those who are busy parents or working, you can easily add walking into your routine,” says Felton. Whether you pop the kids in a stroller, have them scooter alongside, or take a work call around the block, walking is a great way to get your body moving, she explains. You can also walk indoors or outdoors depending on the weather.

  8. Promote quality sleep. If you struggle to fall and/or stay asleep, walking can improve the quality of your zzz’s, per a 2019 study published in Sleep Health. The study also found that women who took more steps throughout the day slept better than men who walked the same amount.

Is walking every day really enough exercise?

Walking every day is an awesome way to up your daily movement and reap the health benefits, but it's likely not quite enough. Felton also recommends incorporating two to three days of resistance training each week.

“It really doesn’t need to be much more than two to three days of resistance training to maintain muscle mass and keep your total daily energy expenditure in check,” she explains. “The general population should be performing some form of resistance training each week to prevent muscle mass loss, which contributes to a slower metabolism, lower bone density, less strength in daily activity, and faster aging.”

Walking is also a vastly different stimulus than a typical strength or HIIT workout, so it’s not really fair to compare the two, says Felton. “Walking increases your non-exercise energy expenditure, but it won’t increase muscle mass as well as lifting weights, which is why doing both each week is recommended.”

That said, if you can’t incorporate resistance training, don’t panic! “Walking is the best foundation for getting in shape and is very underrated in the fitness world,” says Felton. “You will certainly get in better cardiovascular shape by walking daily, especially if you’re continuing to increase distance and pace and add in hills.”

Okay, so how many steps should you *actually* take a day? It depends. “It’s important to see what you’re doing currently, and build on that,” says Felton. “In general, 8,000 to 12,000 daily steps is a great goal, however, if right now you’re only walking 2,000 steps a day, start by shooting for 4,000 and try to build up from there so you don’t become overwhelmed.”

How To Make Walking Workouts More Rigorous

If you’re ready to level-up your walking and add some extra oomph to each step, Felton recommends the following tips. Each one helps up the ante without pushing the pace to a run.

  1. Add incline. Whether it’s outside or on a treadmill, incline walking is one of the best ways to increase intensity without higher impact, says Felton. For example, the viral 12-3-30 treadmill workout is a great way to engage your posterior muscles and build strength in your glutes, hamstrings, back, and core.

  2. Incorporate intervals. Intervals are awesome for boosting your heart rate and building endurance, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association. To cash in on the benefits, Felton suggests one minute of walking at your fastest pace (without turning it into a jog), followed by one minute at a moderate pace, and one minute at an easy pace. Then, repeat this cadence 10 times for a total of 30 minutes.

  3. Add resistance. If you’re looking to increase your heart rate and burn extra calories, Felton recommends adding ankle or hand weights to increase resistance. Even if you keep a steady pace, the added weight will further engage your muscles and add a layer of difficulty while remaining low impact.

Walking Safety Tips For All

Like any activity, it’s important to stay safe and remain vigilant while walking, especially if you’re going for a stroll outside. For one, always tell someone your route and timing, says Felton. Consider sharing your location with a loved one or download an app that tracks your exact route. In the same vein, always have a charged device like your phone or Garmin to contact help if needed, she adds.

Another must? Walk in well-lit designated areas for pedestrians and wear reflective clothing if you walk in the early morning or evening. It’s also best to walk with a buddy and avoid wearing headphones or staring at your phone if you plan to walk after dark, says Felton.

If you’re new to fitness or moving your body, ease into things and consider investing in a pair of walking shoes to keep you comfortable, stable, and supported, says Felton. “Before jumping into a fast pace or intervals, start off slow.”

Lastly, wear sunscreen and stay hydrated. Yes, even if it’s cold or cloudy! Your whole bod will thank you.

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