Exercise Walking for Fitness and Fun

365 reviews with an average rating of 4.1 out of 5 stars
Five people walking on a path

Your journey to health and happiness begins with a single step. The proverbial distance is 1,000 miles, but your fitness walking goals can be more modest. It turns out that the simple act of walking—and doing so regularly—is an excellent way to exercise. Walking with moderate intensity for 150 minutes over the course of a week puts you in lockstep with physical activity guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Couple that with the health benefits of spending time outside, and walking time can work wonders for you.

Health Benefits of Walking for Fitness

When one thinks of starting an exercise regimen, a lower intensity activity like walking isn't typically the first thing that comes to mind. The health benefits of regular walking, though, are substantial:

  • Heart health: lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and increases good cholesterol (HDL); helps prevent high blood pressure and lowers your resting heart rate
  • Strength and vitality: builds up muscles, increases bone density and improves both balance and sleep quality; boosts energy and increases cardiovascular endurance
  • Disease prevention: lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer; boosts immune system functioning
  • Weight health: increases metabolism and improves glycogen storage to allow better fat burning
  • Mental health: increases blood flow to the brain, improves cognition, relieves stress, reduces anxiety and helps with relaxation

You could hardly choose a simpler, more accessible form of exercise than fitness walking. If you're already walking for strictly utilitarian reasons, like getting from the bedroom to the kitchen, why not have some fun and reap these benefits by strutting your stuff outside?

Getting Started with Fitness Walking

If you're walking for exercise, your first step is to check with your physician to get their okay to begin a new exercise regimen. If they've recently encouraged you to become a walker, you're good to go. Some medical professionals are such big believers in walking's health benefits that they're affiliated with Walk with a Doc, a national group that organizes physician-led walks with groups of people around the United States.

Dr. Qadira Huff—a Walk with a Doc leader and founder of the organization Sprouting Wellness, which promotes good nutrition and healthy lifestyles—has these tips for getting started:

  • Start where you are: Walking for fitness once a week is fine at the beginning.
  • Go local: A walkable neighborhood simplifies route logistics.
  • Set your walking goals: Where? When? How long? With whom?
  • Aim for moderate intensity: You should be able to chat while you're walking—but not sing.
  • Warm up and cool down: Slow the pace at the start and near the end of your walk.
  • Plan to progress: Increase your number of walks, how long you walk or how far you walk every few weeks; later, you can try routes with hills or stairs, or intersperse intervals: short bursts of brisk walking or jogging.

Fitness Walking Technique Tips

Because you need to move with pace when you walk for fitness, you also need to pay attention to a few details as you stride. All Things Walking editor Pat Jewett has these tips:

  • Hold your head up: That lets you monitor sidewalk or path traffic and enjoy the sights.
  • Glance down occasionally: Do it often enough to be aware of tripping hazards.
  • Don't drag your feet: Catching a toe when walking briskly is a sure way to stumble. (If you can hear your feet shuffling, you're dragging them.)
  • Tune in to your surroundings: Sound-filled earbuds and cellphones pinging for attention can reduce your street awareness and the mental benefits of an unplugged walk. That said, if music is your motivator, try headphones that leave your ears uncovered and open.
  • Keep your shoulders back: That will help open up your chest and lungs.
  • Stay loose and relaxed: You'll be better balanced and more comfortable as you walk.

Gear and Clothing for Fitness Walking

One of the beauties of fitness walking is that your gear needs are minimal: just some comfy shoes and clothing appropriate to the weather. Beyond that, all you need is anything you consider essential for your comfort, health and enjoyment while you're out. Below is list of items to consider, most of which are discretionary:

  • Walking shoes: Any comfortable shoes will work. Running and hiking shoes are good for walking, too. Need a new pair? How to Choose Walking Shoes
    has shopping tips.
  • Clothing: You want apparel that moves freely and maintains comfort, like activewear or running clothing. What to Wear Running
    has strategies that work for walkers, too. Two great features to look for are sun protective fabric and reflective trim.
  • Small pack: If you travel light or your clothing has a lot of pockets, a pack is optional. A waistpack is handy for a few essentials.
  • Hydration: For longer, more aerobic walks, you might also look at a running pack or water bottle, which solve the issue of how to quench your thirst along the way.
  • Personal care items: This includes things like hand sanitizer, sunscreen and medications. Some walkers also pack a small amount of toilet paper in case facilities en route are out.
  • Walking staff or trekking poles: These help you with stability and balance. Be sure to put on rubber walking tips for paved routes.
  • Safety gear: Wearing clothing with reflective trim is wise, but if you walk during twilight or night hours, having a highly reflective vest and lighting is essential.
  • Fitness tracker: Completely optional, it can be a great motivational tool. Walkers who forgo them often do so to avoid becoming fixated on all the details they can record.

How to Find Walking Routes

Another reason people find walking so accessible is you don't need to travel far (or at all) to find a suitable area. Low-traffic streets with sidewalks are good, as are paved walking or multiuse trails separated from vehicles. Unpaved trails are fine, too: Hiking is really just walking on a trail.

Groups that Lead Walks Plan the Route for You

If you're drawn to the social benefits of walking (it's a great antidote to loneliness), you can find all sorts of groups that organize walks. In addition to Walk with a Doc, many local meetup clubs and parks departments organize group walks with preplanned routes. AVA (American Volkssport Association), aka "America's Walking Club," is one of the oldest and largest groups, and has chapters worldwide. It holds both local club walks and large walking events, festival-like gatherings with several preplanned routes available.

You can also find walks led by organizations specifically focused on marginalized communities. GirlTrek, for example, is a Black-led organization that brings together Black women walkers. AVA isn't a seniors' organization, but its walks attract a lot of older walkers. Few activities are more accessible to a greater diversity of people and body types than fitness walking.

Websites and Apps that Help You Find Walking Routes
The websites of municipal and state parks departments are great resources for finding walkable paths and trails regionally. The AVA website lists year-round and seasonal walking routes in all 50 states within its event pages. You can also check out the crowd-sourced website and app AllTrails, which lets you filter for walking routes. Runner-uploaded tracks that you can find in apps like Strava also offer a rich library of potential walking routes.

Related Articles

How to Choose Walking Shoes

How to Choose and Use Trekking Poles and Walking Staffs