Step up your walking routine to reap the most benefits

by Kaiser Permanente |
Two people walking together in a park

It’s no secret that regular physical activity is important to your health. Exercise reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, relieves stress, and may help you live longer. But you don’t have to spend hours doing complicated exercises to get results. A simple routine of brisk walking offers all the benefits of aerobic exercise — without special equipment or fitness experience.

Read on to learn about the benefits of walking and how to get the most from every step.

How much do you need to walk?

To reap the benefits of an aerobic workout, adults should exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes a week, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. And pace is key — walk a little faster than you normally do. Your breathing and heart rate should increase, but you should be able to talk comfortably.

An easy way to get in 150 minutes is to walk for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. But you can break it up into any schedule that works for you. Whether you take a few 10-minute walks a day or longer treks when you have time, it adds up. A brisk 30-minute walk is about 3,000 steps. And your risk of disease and premature death keeps dropping the more steps you take, up to about 10,000 steps a day.1

6 health benefits of walking

Walking is one of the easiest things you can do for your health. It improves your quality of life and can have lasting benefits — even adding years to your life.

Here are 6 ways walking is good for you.

Strengthens your heart and lungs

Brisk walking builds cardio fitness, which reduces your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and even chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).2 It also helps lower your blood pressure and reduces your risk of stroke. Plus, by getting your blood flowing, walking protects the valves in your veins that push blood to your heart. This can help prevent varicose veins in your legs, too.

Wards off chronic disease

Walking helps lower the risk of some cancers, including breast and colon cancer.3 It can also help moderate your blood sugar levels, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Improves physical fitness

Movement lubricates your knees and hips and strengthens leg muscles and bones. That helps ease arthritis-related pain in your joints and can even help prevent arthritis from forming.4 It also boosts your balance and coordination and can help prevent weight gain.

If pain is keeping you from being active, contact your doctor for advice.

Boosts brain function

You may notice your mind is sharper with a regular walking routine. That’s because it improves your memory and your ability to think and learn. It can also lower your risk of dementia.5

Supports mental health

Walking relieves stress and decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also helps you get better sleep, feel more energetic, and have a more positive mood.

Builds immunity

Regular walking can boost your immune system, so you’re less likely to catch infectious diseases like colds, the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19.6 And if you do get sick, the symptoms are usually milder.7

Shake up your routine

Once you’ve made exercise part of your daily routine, it should be something you look forward to — but doing the same thing every day can get dull. Here are a few ways to spice up your strolls.

  • Track your trips. Use an activity tracker, pedometer, or health app to count your steps and celebrate your wins each day.
  • Buddy up. Bring a friend, relative, or coworker along, join a walking group, or use the time to call a loved one.
  • Tune in. Listen to music, a podcast, an audiobook, or a meditation. Keep the volume low and pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Vary your views. Step out in a different neighborhood, along a bike path, or around a lake. An indoor mall is a good spot when the weather is bad, or you prefer to stay inside.
  • Build your fitness. Increase your speed to see more results. Walk faster for 3 minutes, then slow down for 1 or 2 minutes, and repeat.
  • Walk for charity. Sign up and train for a 5K charity walk.
  • Step it up (and up). Include a hill or staircase on your walk, like at a high school stadium, city building, or train station.
  • Add weights. Carry light hand weights (1 to 3 pounds) a couple of times a week.
  • Try a treadmill workout. A popular routine is the 12-3-30 workout. After warming up, set the treadmill’s incline to 12 and the speed to 3 miles per hour, then walk for 30 minutes.

Remember, the best exercise is whatever you can do on a regular basis. A brisk walk is a good, easy choice for staying healthy.

Borja del Pozo Cruz, PhD, et al., "Prospective Associations of Daily Step Counts and Intensity With Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Incidence and Mortality and All-Cause Mortality," JAMA Internal Medicine, September 12, 2022.

Carlos A. Celis-Morales et al., "Walking Pace Is Associated with Lower Risk of All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality," Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, March 2019.

Charles E. Matthews, PhD, et al., "Amount and Intensity of Leisure-Time Physical Activity and Lower Cancer Risk," Journal of Clinical Oncology, December 26, 2019.

Dorothy D. Dunlop, PhD, et al., "One Hour a Week: Moving to Prevent Disability in Adults With Lower Extremity Joint Symptoms," American Journal of Preventive Medicine, March 19, 2019.

Borja del Pozo Cruz, PhD, et al., "Association of Daily Step Count and Intensity With Incident Dementia in 78,430 Adults Living in the UK," JAMA Neurology, September 6, 2022.

David C. Nieman and Laurel M. Wentz, "The Compelling Link Between Physical Activity and the Body’s Defense System," Journal of Sport and Health Science, November 16, 2018.

Deborah Rohm Young, PhD, et al., "Associations of Physical Inactivity and COVID-19 Outcomes Among Subgroups," American Journal of Preventive Medicine, December 14, 2022.