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Can You Do It? Walking Challenge

How far can you walk in 6 minutes? The answer reveals a lot about your health and longevity

Walking is such a basic physical activity that you may not think it could tell you much about your health. But there’s a movement afoot (pun intended!) to consider walking speed as the sixth vital sign. After all, research has found that older adults who walk at a pace that’s slower than 2.2 miles per hour (that means it takes you more than 30 minutes to walk a mile) are more likely to experience falls, frailty, hospitalization and premature death. The good news: Being able to walk briskly is associated with greater longevity. That’s why we created a walking challenge to help you gauge your health and fitness levels.

“Walking is one of the most efficient exercises — you can do it anytime, anywhere, and it’s great for your cardiovascular and respiratory systems and your bones,” says Denise Austin, a pioneer in the fitness industry and creator of Fit Over 50 magazine. “It’s also good for coordination, balance and muscle conditioning. And if you pump your arms, you can make it a total body workout.”

To assess your walking speed, try this simple test, which involves measuring how far you can walk on a flat surface in six minutes. You can do it on a treadmill or outside, using your smart phone to monitor how far you walk in that amount of time. (Download a free app, like Map My Walk, to track your distance.)

Walking challenge: How far can you go in 6 minutes?

woman walking
GoodLifeStudio / Getty

Before you start putting one foot in front of the other, make sure you’re wearing supportive walking shoes and setting off with good form. That means standing tall with your shoulders over your hips and your head in line with your spine. Pull your shoulders back and down; don’t let them go visit your ears.

Pull your belly button toward your spine to keep your abs tight and keep your rib cage lifted. “Good posture plays a key role in your ability to breathe well — you need oxygen to flow as you walk,” Austin says.

As you stride, make sure your feet are parallel and hip-width apart. Strike the ground with your heel first and roll through your toes.

Keep your head up and your gaze 10 to 20 feet ahead of you. This will let you spot obstacles while keeping your neck long.

Let your arms swing or pump forward and back to help you maintain a good pace as you walk. At the end of six minutes, stop and check how far you went.

If you walked more than one-third of a mile…

You did well! You’re walking at least an 18-minute mile. That pace is well within the limits for healthy aging.

To make the walking challenge harder…

woman walking; walking challenge
Paperkites / Getty

Already walking at a brisk clip? You can still push yourself to go faster and increase your fitness gains. Set your sights on walking a 17-minute mile, Austin says, then when you’re able to that, aim for a 16-minute mile. “The ultimate goal is to walk a 15-minute mile to burn fat and condition the heart,” she says. “Speed counts for burning more calories.”

If you walked less than one-third of a mile…

Don’t feel bad. You can work your way up to a faster pace. A good way to do this is to add intervals: Walk as fast as you can for a block outside (or for 30 seconds on a treadmill), then reduce your pace to one that’s slow enough that you can talk comfortably for three blocks (or 90 seconds); repeat the pattern. Do this for 20 to 30 minutes, at least three times per week, Austin advises. “It usually takes three weeks to boost your condition so you can walk faster.”

The bottom line: Walking challenge

Walking is one of the easies ways to improve your health — and it costs nothing. “You always want to feel like you’re in training, like an athlete,” Austin says. “That mentality leads to overall wellness, and you feel accomplished after you’ve done a walk. Walking makes you feel good mentally, too—it’s a great mood-booster because you get those happy hormones going.” Enjoy them!

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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