Walking isn’t always the quickest way to make it from point A to point B. But it’s not just about quick transport: The benefits of walking for your body and mind are numerous. So it’s not exactly a surprise that when it comes to the fastest-growing activities, it’s near the top of the list, according to new data from Strava.
In its Year in Sport 2021 report, released in December, the workout tracking app found walking was twice as popular in 2021 as it was in 2020—and that’s saying something, since strolling had surged by a pandemic-fueled factor of three last year. This year, walkers uploaded an average of two and a half to four hours striding per week.
Walking’s ongoing popularity makes perfect sense to Lisa Nichole Folden, D.P.T., a licensed physical therapist and wellness coach in Concord, North Carolina. She frequently includes it in the fitness routines she recommends to her clients and patients, often busy parents trying to fit a lot in.
“I try to focus my practice on all the aspects of health as opposed to just physical well-being,” she tells SELF. Walking, Dr. Folden says, is an activity that can encompass that for many people. “It can check a lot of boxes—the physical, the mental, the emotional,” she says.
Chicago-based trainer Kelly Amshoff had a revelation about these varied benefits of walking several years ago. She once thought only sweaty, hard-core workouts—the kind that left you sore the next day—were effective. Once she got pregnant with her first daughter, however, her mindset changed. “I understood that this isn’t correct, and that moving your body is the goal,” she says. She started walking nearly every day instead.
Another child and a few years later, she’s back to teaching Tabata and other classes through her site ImWithKelly. But she still views her near-daily walks as essential, a chance to move her body while reconnecting with friends, catching up on audiobooks, or spending time with her girls. To her, the benefits of walking every day are immense.
From social time to emotional regulation, there are tons of benefits of walking that can persuade you to lace up. But before we get into that, there are a few quick tips to keep in mind before you head out.
Tips to keep in mind when walking
For one, going out for a walk can be less straightforward than it may seem. Not everyone has access to safe sidewalks, green spaces, or parks, which can make simply going out for a walk less accessible to those who live in some communities than in others. For some, safety can be an issue, which may affect what times they’re able to walk at, places they’re able to go, or even if they’re able to take their walk outside at all. So, those types of considerations may play into how you handle walks and other outdoor exercise.
Another safety consideration has to do with injury risk: Wearing proper-fitting shoes can help prevent injury, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons says. You should choose a shoe that gives enough room in the toe box so you can wiggle your toes, maintains about a half-inch of space between your longest toe and the shoe’s tip, and provides stability through the arch, adequate shock absorption, and a smooth tread. And if you’re walking in low-light, early morning, or evening conditions, you should also be sure to wear reflective gear so motorists can see you, as SELF reported previously.
Is walking cardio?
Just like running, cycling, and swimming, walking is considered a type of cardiovascular exercise. Basically, cardio is any kind of exercise that gets your heart rate up, and walking can definitely fit the bill. Picking up your pace and doing some brisk walking can help increase the cardio component, as can planning your workout on a few hills or elevation changes—an increased cardiovascular challenge is just one of the benefits of incline walking!
How long should you walk?
How long you should walk is completely up to you, and can range from quick jaunts to longer sessions. On days your body is craving movement, you might benefit from an hour-long walk. On others, you might feel a mental health boost simply from taking a five-minute stroll around the block to break up your workday. In fact, the latest version of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans report removed the stipulation that exercise bouts must be at least 10 minutes in duration to “count” as part of your exercise total. (The guidelines recommend a total of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week for health benefits.)