Regular brisk walking promotes healthy weight and body fat loss. It helps prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes as well as improves cardiovascular fitness. Walking has all the standard benefits of aerobic exercise, including improvements in the circulatory systems, better blood glucose control, normalization of blood pressure and reduction of anxiety and depression.
The beauty of walking is that it’s free, it doesn’t require a lot of special equipment and can be done almost anywhere. Most people can maintain a walking practice throughout their lifetime.
In the age of CrossFit and high-intensity cardio, walking is perhaps an under-appreciated way to get the heart pumping and muscles working. It also happens to be one of the most studied forms of exercise there is.
Do You Really Need to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?
Walking is good exercise because it puts our large muscle groups to work and has a positive effect on most bodily systems. But how much walking should one aim for?
Public health experts have drilled into us the idea that we need 10,000 steps a day or about five miles. But contrary to popular belief, this recommendation doesn’t come from science. Instead, it stems from a 1960s advertising campaign to promote a pedometer in Japan. Perhaps because it’s a round number and easy to remember, it stuck.
Countries like the U.S. began to include it in broader public health recommendations. Today, it’s often a default step count to reach on walking apps on smartphones and fitness trackers.
Since the 1960s, researchers have studied the 10,000-steps-a day standard and have turned up mixed results. Although clocking 10,000 steps or more a day is certainly a healthy and worthwhile goal it’s not a one-size-fits-all fitness recommendation.
Several studies have consistently shown that significant health benefits accrue well below 10,000 steps per day. For instance, a recent Harvard study involving more than 16,000 older women found that those who got at least 4,400 steps a day greatly reduced their risk of dying prematurely when compared with less active women.
The study also noted that the longevity benefits continued up to 7,500 steps but leveled off after that number. Put simply, 7,500 is also an ideal daily goal with comparable benefits to 10,000 steps.
7,500 steps also tend to be in line with common public health recommendations, such as the centers for disease control and prevention’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week for adults.
As with any exercise, the physical benefits one gains from walking depends on three things:
Walk often, walk fast and walk long. The goal is to walk fast enough to raise your heart rate even if just for a short burst.
Any pace is OK, but the faster the walking pace the better. It’s ideal for 3,000 to 3,500 (of those steps) to be completed at a brisk or fast pace.
While we know walking is good for the body, research is also beginning to reveal how it impacts brain function. Particularly, walking might be an effective way to slow or decrease the cognitive declines that come with growing older.
Try gradually easing into a walking routine by first increasing daily steps. Use a step counter app on a smartphone to encourage you to move. Try adding 1000-2000 steps a day to what you currently do now. If you drive to work, park in the furthest spot from the entrance. If you take public transportation, get off 1-2 stops early. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever there is the option. Take a quick stroll around the office during your lunch break, traveling down a different hallway each time.
These extra steps will quickly add up throughout the day, increasing your strength and stamina in preparation for a regular walking regimen.