Brisk walking can help you whittle your waistline and up your cardiovascular health, but it is not considered a high-impact exercise. That can be good or bad news, depending on your expectations and your medical history. Regardless, walking is an excellent way to start a cardio routine -- it's free, requires no equipment and chances are you're already pretty darned good at it.
Walking and Impact
As you walk, one foot is always in contact with the ground; thus, the exercise is low impact. In contrast, jogging is a high-impact exercise -- both feet are in the air mid-stride, so you land relatively hard on one foot. Low-impact moves are easier on your joints, and may be your best bet if you've had knee or ankle problems. Swimming, cycling and using an elliptical trainer are all low impact. For healthy young adults, the University of Maryland Medical School recommends a blend of low-impact and high-impact exercises; look to jogging or tennis for your high-impact fix.
Benefits of Walking
Although walking is low impact, it does provide one benefit that's usually associated with higher-impact cardio -- it helps build bone density. This is especially good news for women, who are more prone to osteoporosis later in life. Walking also burns calories to help you manage your weight, and helps boost your mood. By walking regularly, you can reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise "good" LDL cholesterol in your blood, increasing cardiac health. Walking can also lower blood pressure and slash your diabetes risk.
Starting a Routine
Sure, you've been walking since toddlerhood, but going long distances still takes some preparation. Warm up for five minutes at a slow pace, and then stretch your calves, quads and hamstrings. Start walking briskly for 30 minutes if you're a beginner, or up to 60 minutes if you're more advanced. Walk quickly enough to provide a moderate cardio workout -- you're in the zone if you can speak easily but can't hold a tune. Aim for 150 to 300 total minutes of walking or other moderate cardio per week.
It may be low impact, but walking poses injury risk just like any other physical activity. Invest in a pair of quality walking shoes, and wear comfortable, breathable clothing. If you walk outdoors, wear bright colors -- and don't forget the sunscreen to protect your gorgeous skin. If you bump up to jogging, start with short intervals and build up to longer running times. If you're new to exercise or have any health conditions, see your doctor before starting a new workout program.
- Morning Cardio Workouts; June Kahn, Lawrence Biscontini
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Exercise - Recommended Exercise Methods
- Harvard Health Publications: Research Points to Even More Health Benefits of Walking
- MayoClinic.com: Walking: Trim Your Waistline, Improve Your Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images