Be honest: how many of you were lacing up your sneakers and going on regular walks pre-COVID? I don’t mean your power walk to the train or your half walk, half jog to get to the office on time; I’m talking about a dedicated, intentional walk for the purpose of exercise. 

I’m an active person who exercises 5-6 times a week, but walking was never really part of my exercise regimen. I like high intensity interval training (HIIT) classes, lifting heavy weights and leaving the gym in desperate need of a shower. Walking never seemed “worth it” to me. Why would I walk for exercise when I could run and burn more calories?

I started walking during quarantine mainly out of embarrassment. Sometimes I would glance down at my Apple Watch and see that I’d only walked 232 steps that day (presumably on my long walks from my couch to my fridge). Once I started going on daily walks, I instantly noticed a shift in my mood, and everyone I talked to during quarantine said the same thing: getting outside, inhaling fresh air and taking a moment to disconnect was doing wonders for their mental health. 

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I’ve kept up with my daily walk habit, and judging by the crowdedness of my neighborhood’s sidewalks, so has everyone else. As I mentioned, many people have credited walking with helping their mental health during this time, but what does walking provide for us in terms of physical health? Daily movement is obviously important, but with so many options for exercise, why should we choose to walk?

“Walking is beneficial for literally every person because it strengthens the heart,” FFC Group Fitness Instructor Becca Faria said. “Young, old, injuries or no injuries, walking can benefit everyone.” 

Faria teaches HIIT classes at FFC, and these quick, efficient workouts have been gaining in popularity over the last several years. HIIT classes may have stolen the limelight from steady state cardio options like walking and biking, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included in your training plan. 

“If you’re a high intensity interval training type of person who is always putting that strain on your body, it’s good to supplement your program with steady state cardio like walking because it is lower impact and helps you recover more quickly,” Faria said. 

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In fact, if weight loss is one of your goals, Faria said “walking absolutely needs to be part of your routine” because steady state cardio helps train your body to be more efficient at using fat to fuel muscle activity. 

“If you’re in a high intensity interval training (anaerobic) zone, you’ll be pulling energy from carbohydrates, but if you’re in a steady state cardio (aerobic) zone, then you’re going to be pulling from your fat stores,” Faria said. “This makes a huge difference, and it’s definitely beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight.” 

Fitness trackers like Fitbit popularized the goal of hitting 10,000 steps per day, but Faria said the amount of time you should spend walking per day can depend on your goals. 

“The very minimum amount of walking to try to hit would be 30 minutes a day, 3 to 4 times a week,” Faria recommends. “If you’re in this to lose weight, I would definitely increase that to 1 hour for 4 to 5 days a week.”

If you’re transitioning your daily walk indoors to a treadmill as the weather turns colder, Faria suggests playing with incline intervals to add some variety to your cardio session. For example, you could begin by walking 1 minute at incline 1, 1 minute at incline 2, going all the way to incline 5 and then returning to incline 0. 

“In terms of your speed, make sure you do a 2-3 minute warm-up and then get into that 5 or 6 zone on the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale (50-70% of your maximum heart rate), and try to stay within that fat burning zone for as long as you can,” Faria said. 

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Keep in mind that walking is only one example of steady state cardio, and you can choose how to get in your 30 minutes per day. 

“If you’re the type of person who would get bored walking for 30 minutes, I suggest switching up machines for your steady state cardio,” Faria said. “You could use a stationary bike, an elliptical, a treadmill and do 10 minutes of steady state cardio on each machine, hitting that RPE of 5-6 for your 30 minutes.” 

Steady state cardio can serve as your entire workout for the day, or you can tack it onto the end of your lifting session or HIIT class. 

So, the next time you’re in the middle of a Netflix marathon and think to yourself “maybe I should go for a walk,” know that both your body and your mind will thank you and that it’s definitely worth your while. 

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Post written by FFC Contributor Natalie Casper.