Brisk walking is actually the most recommended form of cardio exercise. Walking is an effective way to burn calories, improve your heart and lung function and get more fit. It’s not just for beginners – walking is the most popular exercise in the US, and likely worldwide as well. A fitness walking routine is easy to start, builds strength and flexibility and can help with conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
While a walking routine is not going to make you suddenly look like a bodybuilder, walking may be the best exercise for sustainable, long-term weight loss. Here’s why walking is real, effective cardio exercise that can meet most or all of your fitness requirements as well as how to make your cardio walking routine even more intense.
Is Walking Really Cardio?
Yes! Cardiovascular exercise is defined as an activity that raises your heart rate to the level where you’ll burn fat and calories. The great thing about cardio (and probably the best-kept secret) is there is no “best” cardio exercise. Any activity that you enjoy, you are capable of continuing and raises your heart rate can become the core of your regular cardio routine. Because people walk naturally as part of their daily life, walking is often overlooked as a great form of cardio.
There’s an assumption that you’ll need to eventually need to add running, yoga, or routine trips to the gym to really meet your intended health and fitness goals. In reality, you can get just as good of a cardio workout through walking. While running gives you a more intense cardio workout per minute, it’s also harder to sustain for longer periods of time.
When you put in the effort required to raise your heart rate, walking becomes even more effective cardio exercise. Slowly browsing the aisles of your favorite shopping center is exercise and will give you health benefits, but it doesn’t really reach the level of a great cardiovascular workout. In fact, if you’re pushing a shopping cart, you’re probably not walking fast enough to get the heart rate boost required for true cardio. (If you are, you might be scaring the other customers!)
To raise your heart rate into the cardio zone, you’ll want to use brisk walking. If you’re walking on a level surface, you need to be moving around 3 miles per hour. At that rate, you’ll complete a mile in 20 minutes. Listen to your body to learn if you’re at the right cardio level for you. Your breathing and heart rate will increase. You will begin to sweat, and while you shouldn’t be in pain, you will likely notice a strain on your muscles. A good way to tell that you are achieving aerobic exercise is if you can talk in short sentences, but can’t sing a song.
Reaching the Recommended Activity Level for Fitness
The Department of Health and Human Services and CDC recommend adults achieve 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. For additional benefits, double that to 300 minutes weekly. Additionally, strength training which works major muscle groups is recommended two days a week. A walking routine that includes brisk walking for 30 minutes a day can easily fulfill your cardio recommendations. If you can’t find the time to get a full 30-minute workout in at one time, breaking up your day with 10-minute walks can still meet your cardio goals and help slash your risks of heart disease and stroke.
Best of all, walking is great for people of all ages and fitness levels! Not everyone wants to or is able to lift weights, go for a long run or take a yoga class. Those are great exercises, but they’re not for everyone. Almost anyone can take a nice, long walk though!
Advantages of Walking for Cardio
Walking has many benefits compared to other types of exercises, though it isn’t exactly glamorized in the world of cardiovascular exercise. The advantages of walking keep avid walkers coming back every day, improving their routines, and living a healthier life. Walking isn’t a fad that will be replaced by something “better” in six months. It’s a realistic way to meet your recommended fitness goals and achieve a long-term, healthier lifestyle.
These benefits make walking a favorite form of cardio for many people.
- No supplies necessary – When you start a walking routine, all you really need is a good pair of shoes.
- Gentle on joints and injuries – A form of exercise that doesn’t leave you in pain is a routine you can complete day after day.
- Versatility – Walking can be done anywhere, so a change of pace, location, or intensity level can be easily accomplished to make your workout exciting again.
- Lower risk of a plateau – It’s common for runners or those who go to the gym to repeat the exact workout every day, eventually leading to a plateau in results. The ability to change up a walking routine always leaves options for increased intensity.
- Weather can be overcome – A walking routine can be done inside or out. If you hate the idea of a treadmill, consider a community gym with a track, or a local mall (if you can resist browsing the stores).
- You can take your dog – Your pooch needs exercise too! If you’re a multi-tasker, this could be a great way to get two things done at once.
- Walking improves posture – Walking the right way can improve your overall posture, improving your strength and helping to eliminate aches and pains.
It’s worth noting that because walking is so easy and “user-friendly,” there isn’t a real incentive for purveyors of “fad” exercise routines to necessarily recommend walking. If you look at the real experts, like national health organizations and government entities, you’ll find great support for walking as exercise.
Adding Intensity for Bigger Cardio Benefits
Walking is incredibly versatile because there are many ways to increase your walking intensity that are easy to build right into your walk! If you’ve been walking for a while and are ready to take your cardio to the next level, there are many ways to get there.
Whether you’ve reached a plateau, are feeling a little bored, or just want to challenge yourself, you can add these ideas to your walking routine for a cardiovascular boost.
- Add inclines or stairs to your walking route.
- Try interval training, like this 15-minute walking workout.
- Engage your core and glutes as you walk for a mini-strength workout
- Involve your arms (power walking).
- Track your progress.
Walking is often underrated in its ability to provide all of the fitness benefits you need. While it’s important to consider any form of exercise (especially if you enjoy it), a regular routine is only useful if you have the ability to keep it up. If an exercise routine is too strenuous, causes you significant pain, or you generally dread it; you’re much more likely to quit. Walking is a great form of cardio because so many people have the ability to keep at it and improve their routine as necessary.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you can’t also add other great forms of exercise to your walking routine. You can still practice yoga, lift weights, or simply jog some of the time if you want to. Those are all great forms of exercise! Walking is real, good cardio that can form the basis of a long-lasting fitness routine that gets you results.
What About More Intense Cardio?
One of the great things about exercise is that you don’t have to stick with just one thing! Adding strength training, yoga, swimming or any other strength or cardio exercise to your walking routine will only benefit your health. If you decide to add biking, jogging, or other sports to your walking routine it’s still good for your health to get more steps on days that you’re not training. If you don’t have time to exercise, you can always take a short, intense walk.
Depending on how intense your other activities are, you might need to reduce the duration or frequency of your walks, however. If you decide to bike to work instead of taking public transportation, you’ll probably burn more calories and get a better cardio workout, possibly at the expense of getting fewer steps. That’s ok! Likewise, more intense forms of walking (like stairs or inclines) burn 50-100% more calories in the same number of steps. Remember that your step count is ultimately a marker for how active you’re getting, but the step number itself is not the goal.
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