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Is Walking Really a Good Workout? Top Docs and a Certified Personal Trainer Weigh In

Plus, tips for adjusting walks to your fitness level and capabilities

Many of us have paid more attention to our steps since the advent of wearables like the Fitbit and Apple Watch. Setting a daily step goal is a fun challenge that gives us something to work toward, but can it benefit our health? And, more specifically, is walking a good workout? We connected with several experts to find out. 

Is walking a good workout?

“Walking is a great exercise,” says Vijay Jotwani, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Houston Methodist Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. “It’s usually the first exercise I recommend to my patients to try and get them to be more active. And, just like any physical activity, it has a huge range of benefits.”

The benefits of walking as a workout

1. Improved cardiovascular health

Of all the benefits walking provides, improved heart health ranks number one. Even though the exercise isn’t strenuous, Dr. Jotwani says regular walks can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

Research confirms these advantages. A systemic review conducted by The Cochrane Library found evidence that walking lowers blood pressure and promotes a healthy heart rate. Similarly, a report in the European Journal of Epidemiology concluded that walking 30 minutes daily reduced the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) by nearly 20%. 

2. Easier weight loss (and a smaller waist)

If you’re trying to lose weight, you might assume you need to run or do other high-intensity exercises. But that isn’t necessarily the case. Dr. Jotwani says even a mild increase in activity can kickstart your metabolism, helping you burn more calories and lose weight. 

In fact, a study in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, concluded that overweight women who walked about an hour three times a week reduced their body fat by 1.5% and lost 1.1 inches off their waist. (Find out how many calories are burned while walking.)

Related: Studies Prove Group Walking Is Even Better at Boosting Weight Loss — How Your Health Can Benefit

3. Better mood

Have you noticed that you feel happier and generally more content after walking the dog or strolling around the block? It isn’t just your imagination! That’s because exercise (including walking) releases endorphins –– natural ‘feel good’ chemicals the brain produces. Endorphins help relieve pain, but they also reduce stress and boost mood

You can reap these benefits on a treadmill, but walking outside is even better. Laura Purdy, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician known as “America’s Favorite Doctor,” says getting outdoors exposes you to the sun’s rays, and in turn, vitamin D. Since low vitamin D levels increase the risk of depression, sun exposure while walking provides an all-natural way to fight back.

4. More restful sleep

Cara D’Orazio, CPT, a certified personal trainer and the owner of C.G.M. Fitness, Inc., says one of the biggest benefits her clients get from walking is improved sleep quality. Though any exercise can help in this regard, walking seems to be particularly beneficial for women’s sleep. 

A study in Sleep Health concluded that daily walks improved the sleep duration and quality of both sexes, but these benefits were most noticeable in women. Another, conducted by Japanese researchers, found that regular walking practice made it easier to fall asleep. Participants in the Japanese study also reported sleeping longer and feeling more refreshed (perceived sleep quality) upon waking.

How to make your walking workout count

Group of women walking outdoors smiling
kali9/Getty

“The great thing about walking is you can start small and work your way up,” Dr. Purdy says. There are no hard and fast rules, but the experts we interviewed recommend starting with 15-20 minutes of daily walking. As you get more comfortable, you can increase the length (and intensity) of your walks. 

For instance, “you can walk more challenging paths or terrain, like on the sand at the beach,” Dr. Purdy says. “You can also add weights for more intensity and resistance or do intervals of walking faster and slower to help elevate your heart rate.” 

If you’re busy and don’t have time to take a 20-minute walk, D’Orazio says it’s perfectly ok to break it down into smaller chunks. The more consistent you are (regardless of length) the easier it is to build a habit.

Related: New Twist on Walking Is Helping Women Lose Weight Faster: What You Need to Know About Rucking

Joint pain doesn’t have to stop you

One more thing: Don’t let joint pain keep you on the sidelines! Dr. Jotwani says he encourages patients with arthritis and other similar conditions to walk in a pool rather than on land. “This takes the weight off your body, allowing you to still get that movement.” 

“Walking is a simple yet effective way to exercise, offering numerous health benefits and requiring minimal equipment,” D’Orazio says. “By incorporating it into your routine, you can improve your overall health and fitness.” 


Ready to get your steps in? More expert walking suggestions:

Make Walking More Exciting: 6 Treadmill Moves That Boost Balance, Knee Strength, and Bone Density

Step Up Your Rucking Workout With These Routines Recommended by Fitness Pros 

Fitness Pros Say the Viral Hot Girl Walk Boosts Health, Happiness and Confidence — Here’s Why

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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