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Why Walking Can Be One of the Best Cardio Workouts

Take the steps to reach your goals

Date September 28, 2021
Author Patrick Wong
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It’s no secret that here at Tempo we love a good, challenging high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout. Whether you’re a sweat puddle glued to the mat or your heart rate is spiked into zone four or five, there’s no doubt that even the shortest of HIIT workouts deliver a host of benefits: improved cardiovascular capacity, better muscular endurance, and healthier mental wellbeing.

When it comes to getting in your “cardio,” HIIT is a great choice, but it’s not the only one. When it comes to fitness, sometimes we tend to see things as being very black and white. Either we’re all in, or we’re not. “If I’m not sore, I’m not training hard enough.” “If I’m not super exhausted, the workout doesn’t count.” When it comes to cardio, though, getting in an effective workout can be as easy as simply putting both your feet on the ground.

Don’t get us wrong. There’s definitely a time and place for challenging workouts like our HIIT classes, but walking tends to get overlooked as an effective form of cardio training. And for many, walking could really be the best fit. It’s the perfect option if you’re looking for a lower-impact way to raise your heart rate, are taking some time to deload from a tough class or program, or simply want to enjoy some time off the mat (and you know we’re all about that).

What Are the Benefits?

If done properly, walking, like any other form of cardio, will do you a lot of good. Besides the above mentioned improvements in endurance and mental health, walking has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve balance and coordination, and even lower the risk of health problems like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

“Along with longer life — approximately an added decade to your life, improved athletic performance, and less morbidity in our later years of life, walking can also stave off certain cancers, help with depression, and even improve sex drive,” Dr. Joel French, Tempo’s Head of Exercise Science, tells us.

While other forms of exercise can provide similar benefits, walking is great because it’s low impact. If you have sensitive joints that aren’t well-suited for higher-impact forms of cardio training like running or plyometrics, walking is a fantastic choice. The best part is that walking can be done just about anywhere. If your feet can touch the ground, you’re good to go. Literally.

And for long-term fat loss, cardio is the number one key, according to Dr. French.

“Completing workouts that elevate your heart zone to zone 3 will improve your fitness level (or your VO2 max — more about that and your heart rate zones here), which increases your metabolism at rest about 100 calories per day on average. The number of calories you burn per minute while exercising can increase over time as well.

For instance, 12 weeks of cardio training can increase your calorie burn per minute during exercise by 1 calorie per minute. So, now you burn 330 calories for your 30-minute workout compared to 300 before.”

Is It Better than Running?

While running may be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the word “cardio,” there are many other ways to raise your heart rate. For those of us who need or prefer a lower-impact workout, walking is in some ways the better (and sometimes necessary) option.

Studies have shown that there are cardiovascular benefits for both forms of exercise and that the same calorie burn can be achieved across both. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that running, while higher-impact, is also much more efficient. For example, if you’re looking to burn 100 calories, you may end up having to walk twice (or more) as long as you would if you were to run. Another caveat to keep in mind is that running may provide more VO2 max benefits, that is, the max amount of oxygen your body can consume at one time during incrementally increasing exercise.

That’s not to say, though, that walking isn’t a useful tool to getting into shape and having a meaningful workout. Training and working out will look different for every person. For some, walking may be what works best, while others may enjoy running. And for others, a combination of both joint-safe walking and endurance-boosting running may be the ideal fit.

How Fast Should You Walk?

How fast you should walk depends largely on what your goals are. Walking at any speed will burn calories. But if you’re wanting to use cardio as a way to improve your cardiovascular health or your endurance, you’ll want to pick up the speed.

“Getting the heart rate up and keeping it up is where the [cardiovascular] benefits come from. So, if walking gets your heart rate up, that will work,” Dr. French shares. “However, if you are really fit, walking might not be intense enough to elevate your heart rate, so that’s where running and HIIT come in.”

A handy way to know if you’re getting your heart rate up is to use the “talk test.” While you’re walking, start talking and pick up speed. As you move faster, you’ll notice that you’ll be breathing harder and faster, and carrying on the conversation will be more difficult. Go even faster, and you’ll notice more breathlessness and find that stringing words together is even harder. Go even faster than that, and you may not be able to speak at all.

For many, getting to the point where you can still talk with some breathlessness should be enough; it’s an indication that your heart rate is elevated, but you’re not moving at a speed that turns into a jog. If you have a heart rate monitor handy, you can also use that to determine what zone you should be targeting. You can read more about that here.

Again, there’s no blanket speed to take your walks, but consider experimenting with what works best on a given day. If you’re looking for a relaxing mental break while getting your steps in, take it easy. If you’re looking to build up a sweat and get the heart pumping, start pumping those legs as well.

Getting the heart rate up and keeping it up is where the [cardiovascular] benefits come from.

Tips for Improving Your Walking Workouts

You can take your walking workouts just about anywhere, so one of the best ways to improve your walking workouts is simply a change of scenery. If you usually take the same route or walk in an urban setting, think about switching it up!

Besides a change of scenery, a change of pace could help, too. If your walks are usually very leisurely, think about adding short spurts that spike your heart rate to mix things up a bit. Elevation can also be an exciting challenge and a smart way to build strength and endurance. Come across a hill? Try taking it to the top.

And while walking is a lower-impact alternative to running, you’ll still want to make sure you’re protecting your body. Make sure you have shoes that are comfortable and supportive for your body as well as protective gear as needed with the weather.

How to Make It a Part of Your Routine

Walking can be either a main component of your exercise routine or a complement to it. If you’re just starting or getting back to your fitness journey, walking is an excellent way to build foundational fitness and get your body moving again.

For others, walking can be a great way to warm up for or cool down from a workout. Studies say that many of the health benefits we mentioned previously manifest with about 150 minutes of walking every week. So, take stock of where you are fitness-wise, what your current routine is, and your general lifestyle, and then decide what works best for you. Whether that’s a morning and evening walk, several short walks throughout the day, or walking before and after your daily workout.

Try Tempo

For those of you who fall into the camp of using walking as a complement to your gym or home workout, Tempo has several programs that prescribe walking as part of the regimen.

For instance, our Head Coach Melissa’s Shape Shift programs focus heavily on strength training. So, while you’d be moving a lot of weight, you might not be doing a lot of cardio. With these programs, there’s a suggestion to do some light moderate walking daily to keep your body moving while not overtaxing the body for more heavy lifting.

And for those of you who want to get better at walking, or want to walk for longer or on tougher terrain, consider trying Tempo’s HIIT classes or lower-body strength classes to improve your endurance and power.

No matter how you train, the big takeaway is that while walking isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to train, it is something that just about anyone can do, and can implement to enhance their fitness, daily life, and overall health.

Author Patrick Wong
Tags FitnessHealth and Wellness
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