Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on May 19, 2021.
Can you really walk your way to fitness? You bet! Get started today.
Know the benefits
Physical activity doesn't need to be complicated. Something as simple as a daily brisk walk can help you live a healthier life.
For example, regular brisk walking can help you:
- Maintain a healthy weight and lose body fat
- Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes
- Improve cardiovascular fitness
- Strengthen your bones and muscles
- Improve muscle endurance
- Increase energy levels
- Improve your mood, cognition, memory and sleep
- Improve your balance and coordination
- Strengthen immune system
- Reduce stress and tension
The faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits. For example, you may start out as an average walker, and then work your way up to walking faster and walking a mile in a shorter amount of time than an average walker, similar to power walkers. This can be a great way to get aerobic activity, improve your heart health and increase your endurance while burning calories.
You can also alternate periods of brisk walking with leisurely walking. This type of interval training has many benefits, such as improving cardiovascular fitness and burning more calories than regular walking. And interval training can be done in less time than regular walking
Consider your technique
Turning your normal walk into a fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements. Ideally, here's how you'll look when you're walking:
- Your head is up. You're looking forward, not at the ground.
- Your neck, shoulders and back are relaxed, not stiffly upright.
- You're swinging your arms freely with a slight bend in your elbows. A little pumping with your arms is OK.
- Your stomach muscles are slightly tightened and your back is straight, not arched forward or backward.
- You're walking smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe.
A fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements.
Plan your routine
As you start your walking routine, remember to:
Get the right gear. Choose shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock.
Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and gear appropriate for all types of weather, such as layers in cooler weather. Aim to wear moisture-wicking fabrics, which will keep you more comfortable. If you walk outdoors when it's dark, wear bright colors or reflective tape for visibility. Wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses if you're going out during the day.
Some people choose to use an activity tracker, app or pedometer. These can be helpful to track your time, distance, heart rate and calories.
Choose your course carefully. If you'll be walking outdoors, avoid paths with cracked sidewalks, potholes, low-hanging limbs or uneven turf.
If the weather isn't appropriate for walking, consider walking in a shopping mall that offers open times for walkers.
- Warm up. Walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for exercise.
- Cool down. At the end of your walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to help your muscles cool down.
- Stretch. After you cool down, gently stretch your muscles. If you'd rather stretch before you walk, remember to warm up first.
Set realistic goals
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines:
- Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefits. But even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time throughout the day can add up to provide health benefits.
- Strength training. Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.
As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you can't set aside that much time, try several short sessions of activity throughout the day. Any amount of activity is better than none at all. Even small amounts of physical activity are helpful, and accumulated activity throughout the day adds up to provide health benefit.
Remember it's OK to start slowly — especially if you haven't been exercising regularly. You might start with five minutes a day the first week, and then increase your time by five minutes each week until you reach at least 30 minutes.
For even more health benefits, aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
Track your progress
Keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk and how long it takes can help you see where you started from and serve as a source of inspiration. Just think how good you'll feel when you see how many miles you've walked each week, month or year.
Try using an activity tracker, app or pedometer to calculate steps and distance. Or record these numbers in a walking journal.
Starting a walking program takes initiative. Sticking with it takes commitment. To stay motivated:
Set yourself up for success. Start with a simple goal, such as, "I'll take a 5- or 10-minute walk during my lunch break." When your 5- or 10-minute walk becomes a habit, set a new goal, such as, "I'll walk for 20 minutes after work."
Find specific times for walks. Soon you could be reaching for goals that once seemed impossible.
- Make walking enjoyable. If you don't like walking alone, ask a friend or neighbor to join you. If you're energized by groups, join a health club or walking group. You might like listening to music while you walk.
- Vary your routine. If you walk outdoors, plan several different routes for variety. If you often walk in your neighborhood, consider walking somewhere new, such as a city or state park. Try taking routes with hills or stairs as you become used to walking more. Or walk faster for a few minutes and then slow down for a few minutes and repeat the cycle. If you're walking alone, tell someone which route you're taking. Walk in safe, well-lit locations.
- Take missed days in stride. If you find yourself skipping your daily walks, don't give up. Remind yourself how good you feel when you include physical activity in your daily routine, and then get back on track.
Once you take that first step, you're on the way to an important destination — better health.