There’s an eternal chasm between the athletes who think that the only way to do cardio is high-intensity interval training and those who think jogging or cycling is the way to go. However, as with so many polarizing topics in strength sports, there is a middle ground. Walking may be one of the more underrated and accessible ways to improve your health.
A brisk walk can do wonders for pretty much every area of your fitness. Fitting in a few 45-minute strolls per week — especially at a pace of, say, three or four miles an hour — is one of the smartest things you can do for your joints, immune system, heart, brain, and a lot more. It’s not high-tech, it doesn’t necessarily look cool on Instagram, and many athletes seem to have forgotten its usefulness. But hitting your daily step goal can do wonders for your body and mind.
This article will walk you through 10 of the benefits of walking for strength athletes — and pretty much everyone. It’ll also introduce you to some ways to introduce creativity to your daily walk to stave off monotony and increase your gains without turning your walk into a jog.
Disclaimer: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. While many of our contributors and experts have respected certifications and degrees, and while some are certified medical professionals, the opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis and/or treatment of health problems.
Benefits of Walking
- Improves Joint Pain
- Reduces Osteoarthritis Pain
- Improves Immune System
- Lowers Stress
- Better Heart Health
- Improves Mental Health
- Contributes to Weight Loss
- Improves Spine Health
- Improves Digestion
- Increases Creativity
Walking can be joint-friendly, specifically by protecting the joints in your knees and hips. Many people who experience painful pressure or stiffness in their joints daily can benefit from walking since it helps strengthen the muscles around the joints.
Studies suggest that walking just three days a week can help reduce joint pain and functional disability while helping improve quadriceps strength. (1) Since walking is low impact, it can be helpful for athletes of all fitness levels to implement into their routine.
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among adults i the United States some studies suggest. (2) It’s expected that by 2030, 67 million per year will be affected by arthritis. With the numbers rising and the access to easy health care sometimes a challenge, it’s not uncommon for many people to self-manage their symptoms. Even a low-impact activity like walking can help improve function without causing pain or increasing medication. (2) Walking is the most easily accessible activity on this low-impact activities list, which also includes cycling and swimming.
Research suggests that walking briskly and consistently can help reduce the risk of illness and help lessen the symptoms of illness. (3) A recent study reported that moderate to high-intensity exercise, including walking, may help reduce the symptoms of COVID-19. (4)
Hard training stresses the body — and even when it’s good stress, the type that results in more muscle mass, your body needs to recover. For many people, walking can be just about the safest, low-impact exercise there is. When it comes to mental health, studies suggest that walking lowers stress hormones like cortisol. (5)
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Research also suggests that a solid habit of 10,000 daily steps can help lower blood pressure and sympathetic nerve activity. This means that the body moves away from a “fight or flight” sympathetic state and more toward a less stressed, parasympathetic state. (5) Teaching the body to become more parasympathetic is a fantastic tool for improving recovery and lowering inflammation.
Walking at least 10,000 steps per day can help reduce blood pressure and improve V02 max. (6) But that doesn’t mean that the potentially daunting number of 10,000 steps is the only thing that can help. Research suggests that taking between 4,400 and 7,500 steps a day — when compared to taking 2,700 steps per day — can reduce mortality rates. (7) You can customize your daily step goal based on what feels accessible to you — because the more often you can hit that personalized goal (instead of an arbitrary goal set by someone else), the more likely you might be to actually walk it out.
And sticking with your walking goal can really improve your cardiovascular health. It can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease-related illnesses. Although it may seem that more vigorous activity has better health outcomes, research suggests that walking and jogging can produce similar risk reductions of cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure. (6)
Mental and physical health go hand in hand. Studies suggest that those suffering from serious mental illness may be more susceptible to chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Research in this study shows that implementing exercise like walking for 30 minutes just three days a week can help reduce anxiety, depression, and negative mood, while improving self-esteem and cognitive function. (8)
While not everyone has this goal, if one of your goals happens to be losing weight, one of the ways to do so — besides being intentional about what you eat — is to exercise regularly. Walking is highly accessible and requires no learning curve compared to other forms of exercise. When you do it regularly and with enough intensity, regular walks can help contribute to weight loss or weight maintenance. Studies suggest that walking at least a four mile an hour pace, two to four hours per week, can help reduce the chance of weight gain overtime. (9)
Although walking has not been used as a conventional prevention of low back pain, studies found that a single session of walking can reduce low back pain by 10 to 50 percent. (10) While that’s not to say it always will be helpful — back pain can have countless causes — it’s been said that walking can help nutrients reach the spine and help the spine to adapt to loading. (10) Add that to the posture benefits, and walking is a smart option for any athlete.
A post-dinner walk actually is good for digestion. Research has found that a walk after eating helps to speed gastric emptying, helping a meal to work through the stomach. (11) That post-meal sleepiness? Walking may be a useful tool for combating it.
Among people with diabetes, a 15-minute walk after eating also led to lower levels of blood sugar when compared to walking before eating or not walking at all. (12) Other research found a habit of walking can help lead to lower blood sugar overall. (13)
You may have heard the theories about stepping away from your desk or taking a break from your work every so often may help boost your creativity. Walking is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.
This could be due to the fact that walking requires multiple parts of the brain at the same time. Studies suggest that walking on a treadmill inside or walking outdoors can help boost creative ideas, and walking outdoors specifically can produce a greater effect. (14)
How Many Steps Per Day Do You Need?
Smart watches that allow you to do almost anything from make a phone call to track your daily calories burned have become increasingly popular. They can help you pay more attention to certain parts of your health. These watches can track your heart rate, monitor your sleeping habits, set daily fitness goals, and celebrate when you’ve reached them. Some of them even allow you to compete with your friends who share the same type of watch.
One health feature that may be the most well-known is tracking and hitting a daily step goal. This is when your watch or phone tracks how many steps you’ve taken that day and gives you a fun congratulations when you hit the goal you’ve set.
Aside from the health benefits of getting your steps in, the fun celebration and the satisfying feeling of closing your move rings may be enough to motivate you if you’re struggling with that. But how many steps do you actually need to take each day?
Is 10,000 Steps the Golden Standard?
A standard step goal is typically 10,000 steps, which is equal to walking about four or five miles, depending on how fast you’re walking. But that doesn’t mean you need to hit that seemingly magical number to reap health benefits.
Studies suggest that anywhere between 4,400 steps and 7,500 steps can help improve your health and reduce mortality rates. (7) This research supports the idea that all-cause mortality rates can be lowered by 12% for every 1,000 steps taken, with a step count as high as 16,000 steps can help lower all-cause mortality by up to 66%. (15)
As with so many factors in your training, you can customize your personal daily step goal to something that’s accessible, achievable, and beneficial to you based on your experience and overall desires.
You may have thought there was only one way to walk. And although it consists of putting one foot in front of the other, there are different types of walking with varying intensities.
Even if you can easily squat double your bodyweight, the thought of walking uphill may fill you with dread. But a hill can provide a different challenge and intensity to your entire body. Increasing the incline on the treadmill or conquering that steep hill outside can help activate your glutes, calves, and hamstrings.
Since it requires more energy than a flat road, uphill walking can increase your heart rate and help you burn more calories. Studies suggest that walking uphill can increase metabolic demand due to the greater activity in the lower limbs. (16) Finding hills to conquer can be just as accessible as finding a flat road. Try out the hills on your neighborhood road or hit up the nearest state park for a hike.
You may look silly walking backwards in the park, but maybe everyone would do it if they knew the benefits. Studies suggest that backwards walking can help improve balance, gait, and lower body strength and endurance, while lessening the stress on joints. (17)
If you do decide to try backwards walking, know that safety is important. You may want to make sure you’re supervised, or at least in a safe area where you won’t fall or run into anything. Some people may use the treadmill, while others prefer walking outdoors.
A treadmill may be less accessible than the outdoors — unless you have one in your basement. But if you do prefer walking on the tread over the pavement, know that it can still provide similar benefits.
When walking outdoors, you have to deal with the elements that come with it, like poor weather conditions or wind resistance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hit your step goal. Treadmills can be good year-round and can be especially useful when it’s snowing outside.
Aside from weather protection, some treadmills come equipped with what is called a flex deck, meaning the deck is designed to absorb more shock. This can be easier on the joints than walking on pavement. Treadmills also have the ability to keep you at a consistent pace, track your heart rate, and even simulate hill climbs.
Walking with a Weighted Vest
Weighted vests can come in a variety of weights, typically between about 14 and 80 pounds. The weight you choose should depend on your bodyweight and fitness level. Walking with a weighted vest increases the load you’re carrying and can be beneficial for cardio health, endurance, and strength.
Take Those Steps
Taking a walk at least a few times a week can give both your mind and body a major health boost. It may seem like running and high intensity interval training are the only ways to get in your cardio — but walking comes with so many benefits. It’s a low-impact way to recover on a rest day or even get a workout in if lifting weights isn’t in the cards for you today.
If you’ve avoided walking because you thought it wasn’t beneficial, or it was a waste of time, think twice about it. Try a walk in the morning, on your lunch break, or after work and experience the physical and mental benefits for yourself.
- Alghadir, Ahmad H., Anwer, Shahnawaz, & Sarkar, Bibhuti. Effect of 6-week retro or forward walking program on pain, functional disability, quadriceps muscle strength, and performance in individuals with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial (retro-walking trial). BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2019; 159.
- Bruno, Michelle, Cummins, Susan, & Gaudiano, Lisha. Effectiveness of two Arthritis Foundation programs: Walk With Ease, and YOU Can Break the Pain Cycle. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2006; 1(3).
- Nieman, David C., Wentz, Laurel M. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2019; 8(3).
- Silveira, Matheus Pelinksi da, Fagundes, Kimberly Kamila da Silva, & Bizuti, Mathues Ribeiro. Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature. Nature Public Health Emergency Collection. 2020; 1.
- Iwane, M, Arita, M, & Tomimoto, S. Walking 10,000 steps/day or more reduces blood pressure and sympathetic nerve activity in mild essential hypertension. 2000; 23(6).
- Williams, Paul T., Thompson, Paul D. Walking vs running for hypertension, cholesterol, & diabetes risk reduction. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2013; 33(5).
- Lee IM, Shiroma EJ, Kamada M, Bassett DR, Matthews CE, Buring JE. Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Aug 1;179(8):1105-1112.
- Sharma, Ashish, Madaan, Vishal, Petty, Frederick D. Exercise for Mental Health. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2006; 8(2).
- Nelson, Miriam E, Folta, Sara C. Further evidence for the benefits of walking. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009; 89(1).
- Hendrick, P, Wake, AM Te, & Tikkisetty, AS. The effectiveness of walking as an intervention for low back pain: a systematic review. European Spine Journal. 2010; 19(10).
- Franke A, et al. Postprandial walking but not consumption of alcoholic digestifs or espresso accelerates gastric emptying in healthy volunteers. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. 2008 Mar;17(1):27-31.
- Colberg SR, et al. Postprandial walking is better for lowering the glycemic effect of dinner than pre-dinner exercise in type 2 diabetic individuals. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2009 Jul;10(6):394-7.
- DiPietro L, et al. Three 15-min bouts of moderate postmeal walking significantly improves 24-h glycemic control in older people at risk for impaired glucose tolerance. Diabetes Care. 2013 Oct;36(10):3262-8.
- Oppezzo, Marily, Schwartz, Daniel L. Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. American Psychological Association. 2014; 40(4).
- Jayedi, Ahmad, Gohari, Ali, Shab-Bidar, Sakineh. Daily Step Count and All-Cause Mortality: A Dose-Response Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Sports Medicine. 2022; 52(1).
- Milic, Mirjana, Erceg, Marco, & Palermi, Stefano. Uphill walking at iso-efficiency speeds. Biology of Sport. 2020; 37(3).
- Cha, Hyun-Gyu, Kim, Tae-Hoon, Kim, Myoung-Kwon. Therapeutic efficacy of walking backward and forward on a slope in normal adults. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2016; 28(6).
- Normandin, E, Yow D, & Crotts, C. Feasibility Of Weighted Vest Use During A Dietary Weight Loss Intervention And Effects On Body Composition And Physical Function In Older Adults. J Fragility Aging. 2018; 7(3).
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