Trainer Tips on How to Start and Stick With It

You don’t have to pound the pavement at an aggressive pace to enjoy all the heart-strengthening, energy-revving, mood-boosting benefits of aerobic exercise. While we, of course, advocate for running on the regular, walking at a moderate pace can provide many of the same health and fitness benefits.

“Walking is one of the easiest, most effective ways to stay healthy—even if it’s not strenuous, it has cardiovascular benefits and decreases your risk of hypertension, diabetes, and more,” says Meg Takacs, NASM-CPT, a run coach and founder of the Movement & Miles app. “Walking regularly is key to getting the most out of it, though. The more consistent you are, the more positive results your body gets.”

In other words, a casual jaunt here and there is better than nothing, but treating your walking routine like a non-negotiable part of your day-to-day will leave you with the biggest takeaways. Keep reading for more about the benefits of walking regularly, plus eight tips to starting a walking routine you’ll want to stick with every day.

 

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The Benefits of a Regular Walking Routine

It Protects Your Heart

      Walking at a moderate intensity has been shown to improve your cardiovascular health and slash your risk of heart disease. One way it helps: by reducing your cholesterol.

      To help lower your numbers, you ned to make walking a real habit. In fact, a single session of aerobic exercise had no effect on cholesterol but 160 minutes of exercise for 18 weeks led to a significant increase in HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, a.k.a. the “good” cholesterol, according to a 2020 study from Turkey.

      You Might Sleep Better

      It may seem counterintuitive, but yes, the more you walk the more rested you may feel. Walking regularly for four weeks was positively connected with better sleep in a 2019 study published in the journal Sleep Health.

      It’s not about helping you get more zzz’s but about making the sleep you do get better—meaning, you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed.

      It Ups Your Immunity

      Take up a walking routine and you may sidestep the cold or flu, quite literally. People who walk at a brisk pace (read: 2.5 to 4 mph) for 30 to 45 minutes five times weekly have been shown to have fewer respiratory symptoms than others in several studies.

      Other research has shown that even just one walk (again, at a brisk pace) was enough to activate people’s immune system more than usual.

      You May Boost Your Mood

      “Walking regularly reduces your stress, with increased blood circulation to the brain and body, you’ll notice mood improvement as well,” says Emma Graves, a certified personal trainer and Ultra Fit instructor at Life Time River North in Chicago. A regular walking routine, whether outdoors or inside, has been shown to significantly improve symptoms of depression, as shown by a review of research published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity.

      8 Tips on How to Start a Walking Routine

      1. Gear Up

      Invest in some new workout clothes, especially a comfortable, supportive pair of walking shoes, suggests Graves. “Having them will improve your walking form, prevent injuries, reduce impact on your joints, and improve your foot health,” she says. Plus, the more you like your shoes, the more often you’ll want to lace them up.

      2. Set a Goal for Your Walk

      Reflect on what you want to accomplish. The goal can be physical (to tackle a certain number of hills or knock out a mile in a certain number of minutes, for example), or mental. “Your plan for the walk could be something like, ‘I’m going to think about a problem or issue going on in my life, and by the end of the walk, I’m going to have a plan for it,’” says Takacs. Either way, having a specific plan in mind can help you stick to it and go the distance.

      3. Try for 10

      “The most important thing to remember about walking, or any type of fitness, is that some is better than none,” says Graves. Even if you only have 10 minutes one morning, hitting the pavement (or trail, or wherever you like to walk) for those 10 minutes can help make walking feel more like a ritual. “When you consistently show up, even if you don’t feel your best or can’t fit a long walk in, you are building the habit,” she adds.

      4. Add It Up

      The magic number that many doctors cite for how much you should exercise weekly is the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 150 minutes per week. That’s 150 minutes (or two and a half hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (think of an RPE of 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 10), and walking at a pace that gets your heart pumping counts.

      “That could be broken up into five 30-minute walks per week, or three 50-minute walks per week—or if you’re just getting started, start with more frequent, shorter walks and work your way up as you improve your cardiovascular fitness,” suggests Graves.

      To make sure you’re getting that goal of 150—and help you make your walks a regular part of your days—jot down the length of each walk on a notepad or in a note on your phone, then tally up your number at the end of the week. If you don’t quite reach that number, make it your goal to add a bit more next week.

      5. Pencil It In

      To truly make walking a routine you stick with several days a week, train yourself to think of it as a non-negotiable. “Plan to set aside time as if it’s a work assignment or meeting—write it on your calendar,” says Takacs. “Our dedication to health should be just as important as our dedication to work and the rest of life. As you keep tabs on your workouts, you’ll find yourself wanting to do it more.”

      6. Enlist a Friend

      Walking with a friend can help hold you accountable. “Someone who has similar goals and a similar schedule to you can do wonders in motivating you to walk on the days when you don’t feel like it,” says Graves. “It’s harder to skip a walk when someone is waiting outside your door to walk with you.”

      7. Try Habit Stacking

      This strategy, says Graves, is where you bundle one activity you’d like to make a habit with another activity that already is a habit. For instance, if you listen to a podcast every morning, start going for your daily walk while you listen to it. If you tend to talk with your mom on the phone a few evenings a week, try chatting with her through your earbuds while you walk around the neighborhood.

      8. Let Your Mind Wander

      To reap the mood-boosting benefits of your walking habit, you might try listening to a guided meditation or calming music, or leaving the earbuds at home and letting your mind unwind. “Focus on your surroundings, unplug, and go at a pace where your body feels comfortable and productive,” suggests Takacs. “You can use walking as moving meditation, and the more in tune you are with your body and thoughts, the more you get out of the walk—mentally and physically.”

      Headshot of Laurel Leicht

      Laurel Leicht is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She’s covered health, fitness, and travel for outlets including Well+Good, Glamour, and O, The Oprah Magazine.