Turn an ordinary walk into an awesome workout

Want to help boost your health, think more clearly and reduce stress in the process? Get strolling.

African-American women walking in the cool weather.

Walking — our most basic way of getting around — is easy enough for most people. It’s also long been a favorite pastime for bookworms and artists; Aristotle, Dickens and Beethoven were all known to love a good walk. 

But while setting out on foot may be a great way to get somewhere and dream up the next great American novel, it doesn’t count as a workout unless you’re panting and drenched in sweat, right? 

Wrong. Turns out, plain old one-foot-in-front-of-the-other walking is one of the best exercises older adults can do for their overall health. 

Walking is a terrific way to help prevent or manage health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, according to information from the Henry Ford Health System. In addition, a regular walking routine increases your muscle strength and stamina and can improve your balance. 

One 2020 study from the American Heart Association found that older women who walked 2,100 to 4,500 steps a day cut their risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. And the risk reduction wasn’t just a little bit — the walkers reduced their risk by 38% compared to more sedentary people. 

A healthy lady on a walk
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If you can’t make it around the block just yet, don’t worry — you’ll build more strength and stamina if you do it consistently. You can walk on your own time, and the only equipment you need is a comfortable pair of sneakers — a perfect exercise solution if you can’t access your gym right now.

How to Take Your Walking to the Next Level

While getting a solid walking workout doesn’t mean you have to hurry as if you’re missing a train, it helps to have a plan and to make a few small adjustments to your stride. That way you can  boost the effectiveness of your walk while reducing your risk of injury. 

The next time you head out, try these form fixes from the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Step 1: Stand up straight. To reduce your chance of pain or injury, vertically align your body from head to heel. Picture a wire or string attached to the crown of your head pulling you upward. 

Step 2: Look toward the horizon. Focusing on an object a few hundred feet ahead of you will help you stand taller and ease stress on your lower back and neck. 

Step 3: Lift your chest and tuck your tummy. This technique can also help keep your upper body more erect. However, avoid tucking your tailbone under your pelvis or overarching your back. 

Step 4: Keep your arms bent 90 degrees. This will increase your speed and help prevent blood from pooling in your hands and causing swelling. 

Step 5: Relax your shoulders. Your arms will be able to move more freely. 

Step 6: Keep your front leg straight but not locked. This ensures a smoother stride and increases your strength as you propel yourself forward. 

Step 7: Point your knees and toes forward. This will help lower your risk of injuries, which are more likely to happen if your body is out of alignment.

Step 8: Land firmly on your heel. Avoid having your foot “slap” the ground with each step. 

Two 30-Minute Walking Workouts to Try

If you’re just getting started with a regular walking routine, the most important thing is to make it a habit and be consistent. Start with 5 to 10 minutes a day, at a time of day you can commit to.

Each week, add 5 minutes until you get to 30 minutes. Your goal is to build up to 30 minutes of walking throughout the day. It doesn’t matter if you do it in 5-minute blocks or all at once.

Once you’re up to a 30-minute walking session, try one of these heart-pumping interval routines. 

Safety first: Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. This is especially important if you have a chronic condition or if you’re coming back from an injury or surgery.

Walking Workout 1: Interval Training
Varying your tempo can help burn more calories and make your workout more effective. 

Try this!

Interval 1
5 minutes
Walk at an easy, comfortable pace.

Interval 2
30 seconds
Speed up, using your arms to propel your body forward. You should feel your heart rate increase slightly. 

Interval 3
60 seconds
Slow down to a leisurely pace. 

Continue repeating the intervals for 30 minutes or until the end of your walk. 

Walking Workout 2: Around the World 
Walking sideways and backward can help strengthen the muscles in your inner and outer thighs while improving your balance and coordination.

Try this! 

5 minutes
Walk at an easy, comfortable pace.

Exercise 1
10 minutes
Set a 1-minute timer or keep an eye on your watch. At the top of each minute, sidestep or shuffle for 10 to 15 steps, and then continue walking at your warmup pace for the rest of the minute. Walk near a wall if needed for safety. Do 10 rounds, and remember to alternate which direction you sidestep or shuffle each time. 

Exercise 2
10 minutes
Find a flat, uncrowded area. Set a 1-minute timer or keep an eye on your watch. At the top of each minute, walk backward for 10 to 15 steps, then continue walking at your warmup pace for the rest of the minute. Walk near a wall if needed for safety. If you’re uncomfortable walking backward, do a sidestep movement instead. Complete 10 rounds.

5 minutes
Cool down at your warmup pace.