Every day I see Mark, Susan, John, Ruth, Jim, Angelo, Mike, Cathy, and Don walk past my home office window. There are others, too, but I don’t know their names. They are all walking for exercise. Some, multiple times a day.
In 2018, NBC News called walking the most underrated form of exercise. There’s an emotional hurdle most of us to need navigate before we consider walking exercise. After all, it’s something we all do…and have been doing since around our first birthday. Shouldn’t exercise be harder and more exclusive?
WHAT IS EXERCISE?
Experts recommend we get at least 150-300 minutes of moderate level aerobic physical activity every week. There are two key components to this recommendation…time and intensity. You need both to elevate your heart rate and keep it there long enough to unlock the health benefits of exercise.
To be clear, a full-bodied exercise program should also include some strength training, stretching, and balance activities. There is no one form of exercise that covers all of this, but walking certainly covers the aerobic category.
A consistent commitment to exercise will lower your risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. It helps you control your weight. Exercise can strengthen bones and muscles. There is research indicating regular exercise lowers your chance of cognitive diseases and depression.
There are also immediate benefits of exercise including lowered stress, increased creativity, and improving your overall mood.
The bottom line, and there’s no surprise here, regular exercise can help us live longer, feel stronger, and even look better. So, how do we unlock these benefits by walking?
While all walking has some benefits, to count as exercise and meet the minimum recommendation, we need to walk at least 3 mph. Find a one mile course and time yourself. If you can cover that mile in 20 minutes you are walking at an exercise pace.
But, most of us don’t walk this fast without thinking about it. We are conditioned to move through the store much slower. In fact, if you’re pushing a grocery cart at 3 mph you’re likely going to get some dirty looks.
Because this is not our default pace, it will take some time to gradually expand your fitness capacity and walk faster. The “exercise-zone” is between 3-4 mph for a moderate pace. Faster than that and you are likely running.
We also need to consider how far, or long, we are walking. To reach the minimum of 150 minutes a week, we need to be walking for 22 minutes every day. If you want to go beyond the minimum, a 30 minute daily walk gets you to 210 minutes per week. To max out at 300, that’ll require a daily commitment of almost 45 minutes.
The latest research indicates the long term health benefits begin to plateau after 7,500 steps a day. If we subtract 3,000 steps as covering the daily functions of getting from here to there, that leaves 4,500 steps a day that are intended for fitness and you’d need about a 45 minute walk to cover that.
Bottom line, a daily walk at 3 to 4.5 mph between 22 and 45 minutes is good exercise.
If you’re just getting started it’ll take time to build the fitness capacity to walk that fast and that long. That’s OK. Give yourself permission to take it slow. Start with a ten-minute walk every day at a comfortable pace. The goal here is simply to establish a daily walking habit. This takes time. In the beginning it’s easy to find reasons to skip a walk. Begin with a small goal that will help you resist the temptation to miss a day when it feels a little more challenging.
To help you get started, listen to Walking is Fitness. This is a daily ten-minute podcast designed to give you a some extra motivation to get out the door and keep going. To make it even more fun, I record the podcast as I’m walking too.
As your fitness capacity grows you can extend your walks beyond ten-minutes. You can listen to multiple episodes or find other podcasts that are longer.
Make a promise to yourself to walk at least ten minutes every day for 90 days. Each day you keep your promise is a link added to your growing fitness chain. After a while, that provides even more motivation on challenging days because you won’t want to break your chain.
You can download this free guide which also includes a way for you to track your growing fitness chain.
Walking is effective exercise if we commit to moving fast enough and far enough every day. It’s also great fun! Why not get started today?