Walking is perhaps the best low impact exercise most people can enjoy. A daily outing rewards with many benefits. Some health improvements are noticeable while others are subtle. You'll soon recognize, for instance, that walking improves strength and stamina but less obvious is how walking may strengthen your heart, moderate blood sugar, boost your immunity and promote longer life. In this era of Fitbit and fitness at all ages one might think it's important to walk fast to gain significant benefit yet each speed is valuable to our health in its own way. Speed, like distance, is a variable you control. Learn about the benefits of each speed and vary your pace for a rounded workout.

Did you know that walking is the most studied exercise? That's how we know that variations in speed impact our health differently. If you want a cardio workout for your heart then power walks are best. However you can improve your aerobic values by slow walking with fitness poles. Poles protect your joints but add movement that improves your workout. Another way to gain cardio value is to take inclines. Set your sights on gradual strengthening and please start with easy slopes building up slowly to greater elevation. If you are a slow walker trying to improve your fitness to get a cardio workout try a style called interval walking. Alternate a quick 1 minute burst with 4 minutes of slow walking. Silver Sneakers offers a 20 minute routine based on interval walking that emphasizes weight loss and metabolic health. Check it out!

If your goal is weight loss then slow walking may be best. Perhaps that's counter-intuitive. You may think moving faster burns more calories but slow walking works by making muscles exercise harder. Slow walking may also be the best boost to mental health. Step out of the competitive world and simply enjoy a walk while admiring the sights you pass. How does walking improve mental health? Some science suggests that walking shuts down anxiety by turning down noise from the area in our brains that drive anxious energy. Be deliberate about your scenery because it matters too. Trees emit chemicals that calm our minds and spectacular sights can provide a satisfying oxytocin bump. Slow walking promotes time to notice where we are in space and fully absorb the world around us.

Don't discourage yourself from walking if your fitness is lacking or you have to walk slowly. The practice of walking at any speed supports your mental and physical health. Feeling down? Walking releases endorphins that uplift us. Feeling sleepless? An hour of walking or stretching promotes good rest. Having memory problems? A regular walking routine seems to improve cognition even if memory loss has already started. Trying to control diabetes? A daily 30 minute power walk is connected to lower risk of diabetes and lower blood sugar. Troubled by Arthritis? Walking helps aches and pains by driving nourishing fluids into our joint cartilage. 

Start walking! Bring along a friend to improve your motivation. A wonderful aspect of walking is that we can do it anywhere: our neighborhood, our shopping centers, our greenspaces, or up and down stairs. As Leslie Sansone reminds us, in the video below, we can even walk in place at home or in the lunch room. If your fitness level is good check out her 1 mile walk-in- place video below. "What time is it at your house?" she asks, "That's the best time to take a walk. Anytime of the day. Anytime of the night! When it fits your day sneak it in." Try just ten minutes of her aerobic walking and you'll experience the cardio reward. 


Do what you can, build up gradually, and get a walking routine into your life! Walking is a low impact high reward movement that you won't be sorry you tried. Can you make time for it today? Tomorrow?


 Update July 2019: Harvard Health profiles the surprising benefits of walking.