It’s easy to take walking for granted as a form of exercise. After all, it’s how we move around in the world every day, so sometimes it’s hard to believe it’ll knock off pounds or improve well-being. But research shows that walking is a surprisingly strong health and fitness strategy. Proof: one study found that a 12-week moderate-intensity walking program decreased belly fat and increased VO2max, a marker of your fitness level, in overweight and obese women. (How do you know if you’re walking at a moderate intensity? Research says to aim for at least 100 steps per minute.)
Walking can even help prevent some serious diseases. Another recent study found that taking a quick five-minute walk break every thirty minutes throughout the day can improve metabolic health, lowering insulin and glucose levels, as well as reducing blood pressure. Another larger study proved that walking at a decent clip reduced participants’ risk of developing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels just as much as running. And to solidify the positive effects of walking, a meta-analysis found that the benefits of strolling outdoors with friends can carry over into mental health too, improving your quality of life and lowering risk of depression.
It’s clear that our bodies were made to walk, but there’s more than one way to get the most out of those daily steps. We spoke to three experts with different approaches to a rewarding stroll, so you can choose the right method for you. Whether you’re time-pressed or want to ease into running, our experts have got you covered.
The celebrity trainer: David Kirsch
Kirsch, who has trained the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Kate Upton, believes even the fittest people can benefit from walking more. “From a purely physiological standpoint, walking raises your heart rate and burns calories,” he says. “But it’s also a great way to increase your mind-body connection, focus on your breath, spend time in nature, meditate, and de-stress.”
David Kirsch’s go-to walking workout: For beginners, it’s all about working up to 10,000 steps a day, says Kirsch. That’s the preset daily goal on most fitness trackers because it’s considered a good target for heart health and weight maintenance. But after you’ve mastered that, challenge yourself to hit 15,000 to 25,000 daily steps. “Ten thousand should become the bare minimum,” he says. To amp up the intensity of your walks, try a hilly landscape or wear two- to three-pound ankle and hand weights. You can also incorporate some toning exercises every few minutes, like jumping jacks, walking lunges, squats, or squat jumps, suggests Kirsch. Adding these moves in intervals will help you build muscle, improve heart health, and increase endurance. “Walking is so good for you,” he says. “It’s a great start and supplement to any wellness program.”
The weight-management physician: Amy Rothberg, MD
“Walking is one of the best tools for weight maintenance,” says Dr. Rothberg, director of the University of Michigan’s Weight Management Clinic. “It’s aerobic, it engages some of the biggest muscles, and it’s feasible for most people.”
Dr. Rothberg’s go-to walking workout: To maintain a healthy weight, Dr. Rothberg recommends walking for at least 30 minutes five days a week. Some good news: You don’t have to log a half hour all at once. “You can do your 30 minutes in 10-minute bouts throughout the day,” she says, “and those add up.” Plus, when you walk for shorter periods, you can generally go at a faster speed, which may be even better for you than walking slowly for 30 minutes straight, since more vigorous activities can help increase your overall fitness level. And even lower-intensity exercises like fast-paced walking can help burn some of the body’s stored fat. Walking in chunks of time can give you little boosts of confidence to keep you motivated, too. “Whether it’s parking farther away or walking to meet a colleague, you get a sense of accomplishment,” she says. “It’s these little successes that end up establishing good habits.”
The running coach: Jeff Galloway
Galloway is the creator of the Run Walk Run training method, which helps walkers and longtime runners alike stay in shape and prep for races. Adding running intervals to your walks can help you burn more calories, and running has been shown to boost appetite-suppressing hormones, notes Galloway. Plus, easing into running like this allows you “to go farther while feeling better and avoiding injury,” he says.
Jeff Galloway’s go-to walking workout: To introduce faster segments into your walks, start by jogging for 5 to 10 seconds per minute for 10 minutes, gradually working your way up to 30 minutes. Once you’ve conquered that goal, begin adding longer periods of jogging until you can jog for 30 seconds per minute for 30 minutes. Eventually, you can build up to shorter walk breaks—for example, walking for 30 seconds and running for 60. This is an excellent way to train for a 5K or even longer race, says Galloway. (For regular runners looking to add in strategic walking breaks, Galloway suggests alternating 90 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking if you run a 10-minute mile on average. If you average a 12-minute mile, try alternating 60 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking.)