More Walking Tips To Better Health
Walking is one of the most popular physical activities in the country. In fact, walking is good medicine for people who want to exercise but do not have the physical capacity for jogging, hiking, swimming, and other vigorous activities.
Walking can be done in your neighborhood, in a park, or on a treadmill in your home at any time and at your own pace. According to health experts, walking improves mobility, boosts your mood, and benefits the heart, lungs, and brain. This is because the same endorphins that give you a good feeling after you exercise also open up your blood vessels and help new blood vessels form says Chad Raymond, director of cardiac rehabilitation at University Hospitals Harrington Heart and Vascular Institute in Ohio.
According to Raymond, exercising on a regular basis can lower your blood pressure by five to eight points, often what most blood pressure medications do. Besides lowering blood pressure, health experts say that walking as a regular form of exercise lowers the risk of developing heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and other chronic health conditions.
How Many Steps Should You Take A Day?
It’s generally agreed that walking is good for your health, but how many steps should you take each day to reap the benefits from this super exercise?
Some health experts recommend striving for 10,000 steps daily, and studies are available to back them up. For example, researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, and the University of Southern Denmark found that walking 10,00 steps a day lowered the risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer, and death. It was also reported in their study in Internal Medicine in September 2022 that a faster stepping pace, like a power walk, showed benefits above and beyond the number of steps achieved.
In another study, researchers at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee found that increasing the step count from 6,000 to 10,000 reduces the incidence of diabetes by 56 percent. The study was published in October 2022 in the journal Nature Medicine.
Fitness trackers, smartwatches, and pedometers generally set 10,000 steps as the default number of steps to take each day. However, some health experts say that a lower number of daily steps can be just as beneficial, especially for older adults.
“That 10,000 steps was never a peer-reviewed number,” Howard Luks, an orthopedic surgeon in New York and author of Longevity…Simplified: Living a Longer, Healthier Life Shouldn’t Be Complicated, told Fortune Well. “There’ve been a lot of studies of late that show that we really only need 6,000 to 7,000 steps a day to derive a pretty significant benefit.”
NiCole Keith, professor of kinesiology at Indiana University–Purdue University, says when setting a goal for yourself, think first about your own personal improvement instead of an arbitrary number.
“Ten thousand steps is a lot of steps,” Keith, the immediate past president of the American College of Sports Medicine, told Fortune Well. “If you’re an active person and you’re out walking all the time, or you work in a manual labor job, and you’re on your feet, and you’re carrying things and walking around…that’s great. But if you’re a receptionist and only getting 3,000, then make a goal to make it 3,500. Then see if you can push it up to 4,000.”
Long Walks vs. Shorts Walks
Short and long walks both offer benefits, and health experts say deciding which type of walk to do depends on your general fitness level and goals.
The good news is short, and frequent walks can be just as beneficial as one long walk. Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in Los Angeles, recommends interval walking.
“Short, two-minute, more intense walking interspersed with short, two-minute, less intense walking for five to 10 cycles can provide aerobic fitness conditioning similar to jogging for longer,” Dr. Merz told Well+Good.
Moving from more intense to less intense levels of walking has benefits, especially for older adults, according to a 2017 study published in the journal, Cell Metabolism. The study found that interspersing at a regular pace with a faster pace helped to reverse the breakdown of muscle cells and improve muscle power in people ages 65 to 80.
Dr. Tamanna Singh, co-director of the Sports Cardiology Center at Cleveland Clinic, cautions you to be mindful of your movements when you increase your walking speed. “If you’re doing short bursts of effort at high intensity, there is a greater risk of musculoskeletal injury, so be cognizant of ensuring dynamic warmups and cooldowns to reduce risk,” Dr. Singh says.
Dr. Merz adds: “Shorter walks with rest in between can be better for your joints.”
How to Determine Your Intensity Level
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, 75 minutes (1.25 hours) per week of vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of both. The AHA bases its recommendations on federal guidelines for physical activity.
So, how do you know when you are walking at an intense level or a less intense level? One way to measure intensity is to look at how walking affects your heart rate and breathing. Many fitness trackers and smartwatches have a heart rate monitor so you can tell when your heart rate increases.
When measuring a low-intensity walk, a good rule of thumb is being able to talk or sing without having breathing problems. Another way of measuring intensity is the “talk test.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- • If you’re doing a moderate-intensity activity, you can talk but not sing during the activity. Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking), general gardening, and water aerobics are examples of moderate-intensity activities.
• If you’re doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will be out of breath and unable to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Race walking, jogging, or running are examples of vigorous-intensity activities.
While frequency, the number of steps, and intensity are a few of the choices to make when it comes to walking, Keith encourages people not to let the pursuit of the “perfect” walking method stop you from walking at all.
“It’s good to have these studies and to have people paying attention to them, but we don’t want people to come away thinking they have to do it this way or no way,” Keith said. “The ultimate message is just to walk, to get out there and just do it whatever way is accessible to you.”