“If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk.” – Socrates
No one has a negative word to say about the benefits of walking. Accessible to most, with no special equipment or training needed, stepping out regularly can bring a plethora of health gains: improved bone density, lower blood pressure, reduced mental stress and depression and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
What we still don’t know is just how many steps are needed to begin reaping these benefits, nor when a plateau occurs or the peak of optimization is reached. As data continues to flow in from numerous research studies and millions of personal fitness trackers, one well-known goal is clearly being walked back – 10,000 steps a day is not the magic number for all. In fact, far fewer steps can prevent disease and promote well-being.
According to one of the world’s largest studies on walking, a meta-analysis examining almost 227,000 participants over 7 years, just 2,500 steps daily benefits the heart and blood vessels, while reaching the 4,000-step mark significantly reduces the risk of dying from any cause. However, keep on track because more is better, as the risk of death falls by 15% for every additional 1,000 steps taken, and the highest reduction in mortality was seen among those who ramped it up to between 6,000 and 7,000 steps daily. This correlates with the 150 minutes of moderate activity per week recommended in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which translates to approximately 7,000 steps per day/5 days per week.
Also heartening for those who find it difficult to exercise regularly is a 2023 cohort study which showed that taking 8,000 steps just one or two days during the week can result in a substantially lower risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
Most reassuring: “While the longer you have consistently followed a walking routine the higher the chance for life extension, beginning at any age will positively impact your health,” shares Dr. Maciej Banach, meta-analysis study lead and adjunct professor at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “If you first start walking for exercise at age 60, or 65, or 70, and commit to it regularly, you can still experience all these important health benefits.”
Ready to take the first step toward your health and fitness goals? “Start small,” advises American Council on Exercise expert Chris Gagliardi. “Breaking it down into manageable chunks of 10-minute walks makes it easier to find the time and energy to get it done, and that success will motivate you to do more. Think about it this way…if you replace 10 minutes of sitting with 10 minutes of walking, you’ve made a 100% improvement in your fitness goal!”
If you’re looking to step it up, try some of these walking challenges:
- High intensity interval training (HIIT) alternates short bursts of intense effort with short periods of recovery. After a good warm-up, increase your speed and go as fast as you can for 20 to 30 seconds. Return to a comfortable walking pace for a minute or two, and repeat for a few cycles. Start with one short HIIT walk weekly, and add more to your routine as desired.
- Rucking is the act of walking while carrying a loaded backpack or wearing a weighted vest. Derived from military drills, rucking combines cardiorespiratory activity with muscular strength training, and can help reduce the risk of age-related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. To ensure comfort and safety, opt for a vest or load 5 to 10% of your body weight.
- Walking poles help distribute upper-body weight into the arms and can increase the amount of calories burned by 20%. They can be used on flat surfaces as well as when hiking.
- Add a level of difficulty by increasing speed, seeking out hills and inclines, and varying your walking surface.
Maciej Banach et al, on behalf of the Lipid and Blood Pressure Meta-analysis Collaboration (LBPMC) Group and the International Lipid Expert Panel (ILEP). The association between daily step count and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: a meta-analysis, European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 2023; zwad229, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurjpc/zwad229
Inoue K, Tsugawa Y, Mayeda ER, Ritz B. Association of Daily Step Patterns With Mortality in US Adults, JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(3):e235174, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2802810
American Council on Exercise, Walking Toolkit, https://acewebcontent.azureedge.net/assets/about-ace/advocacy/Walking_Toolkit_Community.pdf
Walk This Way
Perfect your walking form in 8 easy steps.
- Stand tall. Imagining a wire attached to the crown of your head is gently pulling you upward will help you walk more briskly.
- Look to the horizon to help avoid stress on the neck.
- Lift your chest and tighten your abs to take pressure off your back.
- Drop your shoulders down and allow your arms to bend naturally at the elbow. Swing your arms to increase speed.
- Maintain a neutral pelvis. Don’t tuck your tailbone under or overarch your back.
- Keep your front leg straight but not locked for a smoother stride.
- Aim your knees and toes forward to reduce chance of injury.
- Land on your heel to facilitate the heel to toe motion that carries you the furthest and fastest.