How to start walking for better health


couple walking in park

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Looking for an unintimidating way to get fit for cheap? Try walking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should participate in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly, but a CDC report from August 2012 reveals that just under half of all Americans are meeting this goal.

The CDC says that “[p]hysical activity such as walking can help improve health even without weight loss. People who are physically active live longer and have a lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers.” We've also previously highlighted the positive impact walking in nature has on mental health. Plus, walking is a great first step for those who want to eventually progress to running. As U.S. News and World Report states, Couch to 5K is an effective running training program, but it “assumes a person can walk comfortably for 30 minutes” and isn’t for true beginners. In a separate article, the publication advises, “if you're coming off the couch, the best thing overweight folks can do is start a walking program” and offers suggestions for how to start. If you need more guidance or have any concerns, talk to your doctor to implement a walking program that works for you.

Every Body Walk! — a partnership between several agencies and organizations, including the CDC, Department of Health, Environmental Protection Agency and Let’s Move!, along with urban planning, transportation and media outlets, including U.S. News and World Report — is trying to make walking accessible to all by promoting its myriad benefits and fighting for more spaces to be amenable to those who want to walk. A host of medical professionals, urban planners and others are featured in EBW!’s short documentary The Walking Revolution. At just under 30 minutes, this short film touches on not just the health benefits of walking but also how walking positively impacts our environment. “Sedentary lifestyle is epidemic in this country. You could even call it pandemic,” says JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH and professor in the department of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The documentary proceeds to show just how our sedentary lifestyle came to be, with factors such as modern technological conveniences and the rise in suburbia affecting our body’s natural predilection toward movement. You’ll also see how smart urban planners are converting abandoned railways into new parks and walking environments, such as EBW! partners the High Line in New York City and the Atlanta BeltLine.

Make your walk work for you. The CDC recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking five days a week, but if you find this daunting or difficult to fit into your schedule, Dr. Michael Moreno, who practices family medicine at Kaiser Permanente, has this to say in the video: “For some people, five days a week is a stretch, and I understand that, so two days a week at 75 minutes or three days a week at 50 minutes, whatever you can do. A lot of my elderly patients can’t walk for 30 minutes straight, so I tell them, ‘How long can you walk for?’ and if they say, ‘Six minutes,’ I say, ‘Give me five six-minute sessions every day.’” Another way the documentary suggests getting more walking into your day is to step away from your desk and have walking meetings at work. AnswerLab CEO Amy Buckner Chowdhry is a fan of meeting with employees while walking and touts its many benefits in Inc., including promoting wellness, increasing productivity and encouraging professional development, among others.

When the weather is working against you, try walking indoors. A treadmill can be helpful if you have access to one; ask a trainer on staff to instruct you if you’re new to the machine. Health also has some advice for how to avoid injury and get an effective workout.

The Walking Revolution introduces us to the Iverson Mall Walkers, a group of older adults who walk the mall for exercise and social interaction. EBW! suggests mall walking as a safe, supportive way to engage in exercise and offers a guide packed with information for those who want to begin a mall walking program in their area, including safety considerations and ways to incorporate community members. Contact your local mall to see if it offers a walking program.

When you’re ready to increase the intensity of your walking regimen, try Shape’s Power Walk Cardio workout, a 30-minute interval routine that will get your heart pumping. FYI: the walking butt kicks in this program are a bit tricky and require a decent amount of coordination. Go slow and practice the movement until you find a rhythm.

HellaWella recently published some great walking tips courtesy of MyFitnessPal, one of which is to listen to music. Here's a walking playlist full of inspiring, fun songs to get you moving. Pick some of the songs for shorter walking workouts or take it with you on longer walks. Remember to play your music at a reasonable level, stay aware of your surroundings and have fun!


Walk-It-Off Playlist

  1. Black and Gold – Sam Sparro
  2. Eye of the Needle (remixed by Big Freedia) – Sia (available for free download here)
  3. Go – Grimes feat. Blood Diamonds
  4. Sweater Weather – The Neighbourhood
  5. Now – Paramore
  6. Do or Die – Thirty Seconds to Mars
  7. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself – Jess Glynne
  8. Ex’s and Oh’s – Elle King
  9. Wings – Little Mix
  10. Latch (feat. Sam Smith) – Disclosure
  11. Anything Could Happen – Ellie Goulding
  12. New Dorp. New York (feat. Ezra Koenig) – SBTRKT
  13. Something New – Girls Aloud
  14. Six Weeks – Of Monsters and Men