How to Maximize the Benefits of Brisk Walking

There are a lot of extreme fitness folks out there, no doubt. Some think that unless you run five miles a day or pump hundreds of pounds of iron, you’re not really working out. But that’s not entirely true… Moderate-intensity exercise, such as regular, brisk walks, offers plenty of health benefits. In fact, it can be just as beneficial as a long run or a grueling weight training session. Let’s take a look at the differences between a walking and running regimen, and how to get the most out of your brisk walking routine.

Brisk Walking Vs. Running: What’s Better

There’s really no reason why there should be any kind of argument over which physical activity routine is better – walking or running. Different people have different capabilities. As long as you get off the sofa and do something, you’ll be increasing your heart rate and helping to improve your health.

Running is a great workout, no doubt. But walking is the better choice for a lot of people. While it’s a lower-impact form of exercise, regularly taking a brisk walk is great for people who have back, knee, or ankle problems. It’s also a better option for people who are either overweight or suffer from obesity.1 After all, what good is a workout if it causes a serious injury – or something even worse?

There is solid evidence indicating a brisk walk can be just as healthy as running.

Researchers compared the results of a major study on runners with another major study on walkers. There were more than 30,000 participants in the runner’s’ study and 15,000 in the walker’s study. According to the results, the runners were are a substantially lower risk of developing severe health problems, regardless of how much they ran per week.

You might assume this means running is healthier than brisk walking. But that’s not the whole story.

Researchers looked at the amount of energy the runners and walkers expended. The results were surprising. It turns out, it’s not the type of exercise routine you follow that’s most important. What’s important is the amount of energy you expend. According to the results, the brisk walkers saw more of a reduced risk for major health problems than the runners. The more energy that both groups expended, the greater their cardiovascular health improved.

So, a runner isn’t a healthier person just because they’re a runner. If you prefer a brisk walk, you can potentially enjoy equal, or even greater, health benefits.2

Brisk Walking: A Step in the Right Direction

benefits of brisk walking

A brisk walk has a multitude of potential health benefits, including:

  • Improved coordination and balance
  • Healthy weight maintenance, or weight loss
  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • Improved mood
  • Better management of serious health problems, including heart disease

In general, the more you walk – in terms of both frequency and distance – the more benefits you’ll enjoy.

One study showed that a brisk walk each day could lower the number of days the average person will spend in the hospital per year. According to another study, walking one hour per day could lower the risk of death by nearly 40 percent, compared to getting no physical activity at all.4

Yet another study shows that regularly walking at a brisk pace can substantially help your overall health. According to the results, people who stuck with a brisk walking program saw substantial improvements in their resting heart rate, as well as their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They also saw a significant reduction in both their weight and body fat content.5

How To Start a Walking Routine

Try to work up to a pace of about four miles an hour (15 minutes per mile). This is considered a moderately intense workout. The best way to determine the intensity of your walking routine will be to check your heart rate.6

You can do this by buying a heart rate monitor, or by simply checking your pulse at regular intervals. In general, the ideal heart rate is between 50-69 percent of your maximum heart rate. You calculate that by subtracting your age from the number 220. For example, the maximum heart rate for a 40-year-old person is 180 beats per minute, or BPM. The ideal heart rate for that person would be between 90-153 BPM.7

Prefer the treadmill? Here’s how to get the most out of it…

A lot of people prefer walking on a treadmill to walking around the neighborhood. If you fall into this category, the best way to get an effective workout will be to switch up the routine. This should help you increase your heart rate and burn more calories. As a result, you’ll also be burning more fat.8

Instead of always keeping the treadmill at one setting, mix in different settings. Set it to a higher incline for a little while, and use different walking styles. Most treadmills can be adjusted to mimic the outdoors. For example, you can set it to walk as you would on a sidewalk. You could then change it to mimic walking up a steep hill.

The more demands you put on your body, the more energy you will use. Your heart rate will increase, and you’ll be burning more calories. It will also help significantly strengthen the muscles in your legs – especially your calves and quadriceps. And you’ll be doing all of this without putting unnecessary wear and tear on your knees and other lower body joints.

If you’re new to the treadmill, start gradually. Set it with no incline, and at a speed you can handle, for about five minutes to warm up. Then, increase the incline for about three minutes, and go back to no incline for about a minute. Try to keep up the same brisk walking speed during this time. As you get more comfortable with walking on the treadmill, gradually increase the intensity. You might also want to consider adding weights to your treadmill walking routine. You could hold a couple of dumbbells or simply carry a backpack with four or five books inside. This will help you expend even more energy.9

Safety First

Of course, the best workout is a safe one. This is the case no matter what type of routine you follow. Before you use a treadmill or start any other type of exercise regimen, make sure your doctor says you’re healthy enough to do so. Never try to push through a workout if you experience any chest pain, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath. The treadmill should have some kind of clip that you can attach to your clothes. This clip will pull the key out of the treadmill if you lose your balance. Use it every time you’re on the machine. If you’re at home alone, make sure someone knows you’re about to work out. Always keep a phone handy just in case some sort of emergency occurs.10

One Last Thought

As we’ve learned today, walking is just as effective a workout as running. Hold your head high the next time you take a brisk walk around the neighborhood, or on a treadmill. When it comes to exercising, walking is vastly underrated. In order to get the most out of this form of physical activity, however, you’ll need to change things up once in awhile. Work on increasing your speed, your incline, and even your distance. If you’re just starting out, talk to your doctor first to stay on the safe side.

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