One of the absolute best parts about walking is that it’s so easily accessible. You don’t need a gym membership or a fancy piece of home workout equipment. You don’t need expensive exercise clothing or accessories. All you need to walk is a good pair of shoes and a little self-motivation. You can walk inside or outside, around your office or around the park, and you can adjust your speed and intensity as you see fit.
“Walking can be as good as a workout, if not better, than running,” says Dr. Matt Tanneberg, CSCS, a sports Chiropractor and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist in Phoenix, Arizona who works with elite athletes. “You hear of people 'plateauing' when they continue to do the same workout routine and stop seeing results. I see patients all the time that plateau from running, they will run the same distance, speed and time, day in and day out. You need to constantly be switching up your exercise routine in order to get the maximum benefit for your health.”
Physical activity such as walking, jogging, indoor cycling, or aerobic dancing are all examples of aerobic exercise that strengthen the heart and lungs, therefore improving your body's utilization of oxygen. For general health, aim for a 30-minute workout (or three 10-minute workouts per day) three to five days a week at moderate intensity. Moderate intensity refers to an activity that will increase your breathing and get your heart beating fast. You should be able to talk with ease during moderate intensity workouts, though trying to sing would be more challenging.
Increase your time. With each walk, increase your walking time by 30 seconds to 1 minute until you are able to sustain a 10-minute walk. Again, do not fret if you can't go longer than the day before. Set the goal and keep at it and you will reach it faster than you think. After reaching 10 minutes, your rate of increasing may slow, but continue trying to increase your walking time by 5 minutes each week.
An analysis of studies on walking showed it improves aerobic fitness - which is technically the ability of the heart to get oxygen to our muscles and how effectively our muscles use that oxygen. But to be effective, walking needs to be of at least moderate intensity, which means an intensity where you’re able to notice your breathing but can carry on a conversation without noticeable pauses between words. For many, this is a brisk walk.
Fitness trackers and fitness equipment can tally your calories burned while exercising, but they’re not always accurate. “Using a variety of sources and taking a ‘midpoint’ might help keep you honest,” says Hilaton. “I think it is important to keep in mind that all of these estimates of calories burned are just that: estimates. There are a lot of variables that go into the actual number of calories burned by any given individual in any exercise beyond speed and duration.” For a starting point, calculate your numbers with our Calories Burned Running Calculator.
The thinking has also changed somewhat on whether there’s a threshold minimum workout duration required to reap cardiovascular health benefits from aerobic activity. HHS’s new physical activity guidelines eliminated the long-standing recommendation that exercise had to last at least 10 minutes to count toward your daily total. (4) The new guidelines emphasize that small bouts of activity throughout the day can add up to big health benefits.
I mentioned that fat and carbohydrate are the fuels our muscles burn. The difference between them is that fat is high-test; it contains 9 calories per gram whereas carbohydrate has only 4, and so you get more energy and can go farther on a gram of fat than on a gram of carbohydrate. You want to burn fat because it's such an efficient fuel, plus it's nice to lose some of your excess fat! The catch is that you need more oxygen to burn fat because it's denser than carbohydrate. The good news is that your body gets better at using oxygen and burning fat when you do regular aerobic exercise; like I described, your heart pumps more blood, your muscles consume more oxygen, and you have more mitochondria.
No study has been more conclusive about the role of lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) in preventing diabetes than the Diabetes Prevention Program. It was a study of more than 3,000 individuals at high risk for diabetes who lost 12-15 pounds and walked 150 minutes per week (five 30-minute walks per day) for three years. They reduced their risk of diabetes by 58%. That's significant considering there are 1 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed each year. Aerobic exercise can also improve insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body doesn't use insulin properly, and this condition can occur in individuals who do and do not have diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that helps the cells in the body convert glucose (sugar) to energy. Many studies have shown the positive effects of exercise on insulin resistance. In one, 28 obese postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes did aerobic exercise for 16 weeks, three times per week, for 45-60 minutes, and their insulin sensitivity improved by 20%.