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Is Walking Good Enough Exercise?

Smiling adult couple walking their dog on a pathway between grown trees on a sunny summer day

So, you’re not an endurance athlete. High-intensity workouts aren’t your thing. Walking is more your speed. But is walking good enough exercise?

The short answer is yes.

“Walking is just as good as any other form of exercise,” says University Hospitals pediatric sports medicine specialist Laura Goldberg, MD.

“The guidelines are 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. It doesn’t really matter how you get that. You can walk, you can swim, you can run.”

We asked Dr. Goldberg and University Hospitals cardiologist Chad Raymond, DO, to drill down on the ins and outs of walking for good health.

How important are daily step counts?

The evidence shows that 7,000 or more steps a day provides a substantial health benefit.

A 2021 study found that people who logged at least 7,000 steps per day had a 50-70 percent lower risk of premature death, compared to those who walked less than 7,000 steps.

Dr. Raymond: Continuous walking is more beneficial than short bursts of walking you might do in an office job, for example.

Generally, you want to get your heart rate elevated for at least 10 minutes. When you do continuous exercise, there are biochemical changes in the body that are beneficial. If you’re looking for overall cardiovascular health, continuous is better.

Physical activity and exercise help overall health. The evidence is there for cardiovascular benefit, for benefit in terms of diabetes and weight control, for hypertension, for neurological function in people at risk for cognitive impairment, such as the very elderly. It’s even there for cancer prevention.

Is leisurely walking as beneficial as power walking or jogging?

Dr. Goldberg: Everyone will get some benefit even at a low intensity.

In general, vigorous activity counts twice as much as moderate activity in terms of meeting your goal of recommended minutes of activity per week.

Dr. Raymond: Some benefits are independent of the intensity while others are not.

Less intense exercise needs to be performed for longer duration to achieve the same benefits as more intense exercise. If you do same volume of exercise – for example, instead of running 20 minutes three times a week, you walk for one hour five times a week – you’re covering about the same distance. You’ll probably get about the same cardiovascular benefit.

A higher level of activity has some benefits, but you get most of benefit toward the lower end of the exercise spectrum.

Dr. Goldberg: To increase cardio fitness, you need to challenge your body and increase the intensity.

If you go for 30-minute walk at a moderate pace, you can throw in some vigorous intensity to push your heart rate and challenge your body to improve overall fitness.

Adding more vigorous activity to your routine can help improve balance, coordination, brain function, energy levels, sleep, and help you keep your weight under control.

Dr. Raymond: For people who are sedentary, they might start out walking 10 minutes. Maybe they can only do 3,000 steps a day, but can add steps every week or month.

The relative benefit is the greatest for people who are very inactive, very sedentary and start even moderate exercise.

How do I know if my walking counts as moderate?

Dr. Goldberg: With low intensity, you can talk or sing and may not break a sweat. With moderate intensity, you should be able to talk, but not necessarily sing.

How can I get the most cardio benefit from walking?

Dr. Goldberg: Increase resistance in walking by walking uphill or walking in water. You can increase the swing of your arms, which increases overall intensity of the exercise. Even using walking poles helps. You have to hold your body more upright and use your arms more.

Final thoughts?

Dr. Raymond: Exercise is medicine. Even modest amounts of walking are beneficial.

Dr. Goldberg: The best form of exercise is the exercise you do regularly.