I literally broke my way into the joys and benefits of walking for exercise, and I love it! I broke my foot a week before Christmas. Wait, let me rephrase that accurately. My foot was broken by a distracted driver who drove over my foot as I stepped off a curb. After several months of not exercising, my foot finally healed enough for me to go back to running, or so I thought. As soon as the walking boot was off, so was I. I was off and running again.
As you are reading this, you perhaps already see what’s coming next. I re-injured my foot and had a setback. This forced me to take a look at walking for exercise as an alternative to running. Because I have been a runner all my life, walking, while intuitive, was new to me as any new form of exercise would be. So, I wanted to learn as much as I could about walking for exercise.
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The 5 Benefits of Walking for Exercise
I learned as a 50+-year-old man with a lot of wear and tear on these tires, walking for exercise brings a lot of benefits that I frankly did not know about. Here are just some of the few benefits you will enjoy and gain through walking for exercise.
1. Great Exercise
Finding a walking trail and taking a brisk walk is considered moderate-intensity aerobic activity as it is aerobic exercise, and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) guidelines recommend that adults get 150 minutes (2.5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Walking for exercise helps to improve the body’s circulation, which helps fight against heart disease.
2. Weight Loss
Walking for exercise in tandem with a healthy diet that includes superfoods can help in the battle with obesity and unwanted weight gain. Men and women, as we grow older, our metabolism slows, and we must control and maintain a healthy weight. Carrying around additional body fat is not healthy and will cause major health issues.
3. Reduced Risk of Alzheimer’s
Here is a great reason walking for exercise is so important. The Arthritis Foundation cites a study from the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, “men between the ages of 71 and 93 who walked more than a quarter of a mile per day had half the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than those who walked less.”
4. Stress Management
This has been the greatest and fastest ROI for me and I am sure it will be for you as well. Whenever I feel stressed, I love going for a walk. Being outside and walking helps to clear your mind. Because walking releases endorphins, it will help take the edge off and put you in a better mood.
5. Better Sleep
You will notice when walking for exercise, you will feel a certain level of calmness overtaking you. This calm will allow you to sleep much better, and most important, for those with trouble sleeping, it will provide a peaceful sleep through the night.
Walking vs. Running
What I notice as I get older is that I have aches and pains after running. I do not believe in the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. I didn’t buy it in little league (yes, I’m talking to you Coach Buzzy) when running 10 laps around the field, and I don’t buy it now. Both walking for exercise and running are great to get your heart pumping. Both offer many of the same benefits. But here is the main difference,
- Walking is a low-impact exercise and easy on the joints.
- Walking is good for those with lower back pain.
- Running/jogging will expedite your goal of losing weight if that is your goal. Running will burn more calories quicker than walking but walking for exercise will do the job just as effectively.
How to Walk for Exercise
Walking may seem like a natural action, especially for someone over the age of 40. But there is a proper way when it comes to walking for exercise.
- Work with your doctor: Before starting any strenuous exercise routine, you should first check in with your doctor. This is important if you have certain health conditions.
- Set a goal: If you have not exercised in some time, start slow and work your way up. Start with 5 to 10 minutes a day at a slow pace and gradually increase your time and pace. The chief thing is to get started.
- Keep a record: You can’t measure what you don’t track. It is important to know how you are progressing as you exercise. The activity tracker Fitbit is a great device to help with this allowing you to track your steps and your progress. It will also show how many calories you burn, monitor your heart rate, and can play your favorite songs. Check out the Fitbit Charge 4 Fitness and Activity Tracker with built-in GPS, Heart Rate, Sleep & Swim Tracking.
- Get to Steppin: Walking for exercise is different from your everyday casual walk.
- Warm up by slowly walking and gradually getting into your walking stride.
- Walk with your head up.
- Swing your arms from front to back with a slight 90-degree bend in your elbows (almost like a runner’s stride). Trust me when I say you will feel a difference in your cardio when you walk with speed and swing.
- As you take each step, roll your foot from heel to toe and push off into your next step.
- Slightly tighten your stomach muscles as you walk. Notice I said, slightly tighten, but I did not say hold your breath. This may take some practice and getting used to.
- Remember, you are walking for exercise and not leisure. To test if your walk is at moderate intensity, you can take the “Talk Test.” When walking you should be able to talk, but not sing.
- Cool down at the end of your walk by slowly walking for about 5 to 10 minutes at a slower pace.
What To Wear When Walking for Exercise
Just like with any sport or activity, you must have the proper gear when walking for exercise. Because you will be walking outside, you must be prepared for all the elements. Whether it’s the sun, rain, heat, or cold weather, your dress must be appropriate for your climate.
Always strive for comfortable clothing. Your clothing should be loose-fitting and flexible. If you like to walk during the early mornings or late evenings, be sure to wear clothing that is bright and reflective so that you are seen by others. In addition to bright clothing, you could wear something as simple and easy as a high reflective sash.
So here is an obvious question, what is the best walking shoe? I can’t stress this next point enough; choosing the correct shoes is the most important piece of gear you will have as a walker. The purchase of walking shoes is an investment and can be a bit pricey. Check out our blog on The Best 10 Running Shoes and Brands for Under $100. But again, your shoes are an investment in your health and will help you maximize the benefits of walking as an exercise.
Many times, we take for granted the importance of a good pair of shoes. A good walking shoe will help your balance, posture and comfort your feet. While walking is a low-impact activity, your feet are still pounding the pavement with every step you take.
According to the website Spine-Health, there are three essential guidelines for buying a great pair of walking shoes.
- Stability – the shoes should have a balanced and secure feel throughout the range of motion.
- Flexibility – the shoes should allow for a good degree of giving at the base of the toes, providing a smooth motion.
- Comfort – walking shoes should comprise contours and padding conformed closely to the feet, providing a snug fit at the heel and midfoot, with ample room in the forefoot.
The Finish Line
As we get a bit older, it is extremely important that we remain physically active with at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Walking is a great way to exercise it is much easier on the body than running.
There are so many great benefits that come with walking, and the best way to begin taking advantage of those benefits is to get up and start walking today. Invite a family member or friend to walk along with you. Walking with a partner can be much more enjoyable, plus you can inspire and motivate one another.
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Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd Edition. (2018). 8. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3mscUX4
Forcum, T., & Hyde, T. (2004). Guidelines for Buying Walking Shoes. Spine-Health. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Hbr12Z