Walk Fast or Walk Longer?
Say the word, “exercise,” and you immediately imagine someone jogging down a path, pedaling fast on a stationary bicycle or sweating in a high-energy cardio class. What might not come to mind is an image of a brisk walk on a pleasant day.
Just as other exercises vary in style, there are various types of walking styles. So, is it better to walk faster or walk longer for better heart health? Whatever you decide, both types of walking have benefits, says Dr. John Higgins, a sports cardiologist with McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
1. Short, fast walks
If you have a busy schedule and struggle to find time to work out each day, then short, fast walks provide all the benefits of aerobic activity. According to Dr. Higgins, the speed gives you “more bang for the buck” when you do not have much time to exercise. For example, high-intensity walking:
• Strengthens the heart
• Lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease
• Improves cognitive function
• Activates the immune system
• Improves your mood
What’s more, about 15 minutes of high-intensity walking a day equals about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking.
Dr. Higgins cautions that walking fast can result in a higher risk of injury. So, he recommends doing the necessary self-care work, like stretching, mobility, and strength training to reduce the risk of injury.
2. Long, slower walks
A longer walk may take more time, but the activity lowers your risk of injury and provides many of the same health benefits as walking faster. A longer walk builds endurance so that you can, over time, cover longer distances, Dr. Higgins says. Consistent walking allows you to gradually combine both distance and speed.
Rather than settle for only walking faster or only walking longer, Dr. Higgins recommends doing one high-intensity workout a week or every other week and doing moderate workouts, like jogging, biking, or swimming on the rest of the days.
Walking Benefits The Entire Body
Walking is considered one of the best exercises for the entire body, but especially the legs. The quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and abdominal muscles come into play with every step we take, says Sally Davies, senior physiotherapist at Bupa Health Clinic in Bristol, England. For example, when we move our leg forward, the quads and hamstrings help to bend the knee as well as press off the ground.
According to Davies, the muscles in the leg work together to “provide stability, support, and control to the body” while walking. These movements help to strengthen and condition the leg muscles.
Davies says the best way to work all muscles during your walk is to alternate between walking on flat surfaces and inclines and alternating your speed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends doing 150 minutes of physical activity each week. While it may sound like a lot, the CDC recommends spreading the 150 minutes out over the week. For instance, the agency breaks it down to doing 30 minutes of movement at a moderate intensity five days a week.
Does walking fulfill the CDC’s recommendation for physical activity? Stephanie Mansour, a personal trainer and weight-loss coach said one of her clients asked her if walking counted as exercise. And, if all you could do is walk, is that “good enough? ” Mansour answered “yes.”
According to Mansour, walking often gets a “bad rap” for not being an intense form of exercise that can create change.
Mansour offers five tips to help you see results from your walking routine:
1. Walk for at least 30 minutes a day.
If walking is your main source of exercise, set a goal of logging at least 30 minutes a day. If you’re just starting, walk for only 10 minutes or 5,000 steps a day and build up to your goal.
2. Walk briskly.
Brisk walking improves cardiovascular health and burns more calories. If you’re having problems moving faster, then alternate your pace. Walk at a regular pace for one minute or one block, then speed walk for the next minute or the next block.
3. Walking on an incline.
Adding hills or inclines to your walk strengthens your leg muscles and provides a more intense workout for your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps muscles. Walking on an incline also changes your routine route of walking around your neighborhood or on level ground.
4. Walk with hand or ankle weights.
Walking with extra weights provides more resistance, making your ankles and arms work harder. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends using hand weights or ankle weights between 1 and 3 pounds. ACE does not recommend using weights greater than 3 pounds because they can put strain and stress on your muscles and joints.
5. Increase your distance over time.
If you are just beginning to walk, start with short distances for a few weeks. Then, increase the distance over time. Mansour suggests using “distractions,” such as listening to music or a podcast to increase your distance. Mansour said one of her clients spoke positive affirmations to herself like, “I am a walking machine!” and “I feel so good in my own skin!” Some days she gets so carried away with her affirmations that an hour goes by.
Walking has several advantages over other types of physical activity, Mansour said. For one, walking is a comfortable and familiar form of exercise that can be done anywhere and no equipment is needed. Secondly, you can make it a social activity by walking with others.