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If all I do is walk for exercise, is that a good enough workout?

Yes, walking is good exercise. A new study shows that walking just 4,000 steps a day can significantly lower your risk of dying. And every step counts.

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Walking is having a moment: People have fallen back in love with the simple form of movement for the accessibility and mental health benefits. But many of my clients ask me: Does walking count as exercise? If that’s all I do, is it good enough?

My answer is always a resounding “Yes!”

Walking often gets a bad rap as being not intense enough to create real change or a cop-out from more effective forms of exercise. As the amazing transformations coming out of our Start TODAY walking group prove, this is entirely false!

And you don’t even have to walk that far to start reaping the benefits. A new analysis published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that walking 4,000 steps a day started to reduce the risk of dying from any cause, while walking just 2,337 steps a day reduced the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

But don’t let that limit you, the study also showed that the more you walk, the greater the benefit. And every little bit counts: With every 500 to 1000 extra steps walked, the risk of dying from any cause or cardiovascular disease went down significantly. Which means that extra walk around the block at lunch time or after dinner can really have a big impact.

Health benefits of walking

Taking a walk is stress reducing, enjoyable and good for your health. So why not use it as your workout of choice? Over time, walking consistently may help improve heart health and reduce body fat. About 30 minutes of walking a day can help you make progress toward your weight loss and fitness goals. Plus, it’s a comfortable and familiar form of exercise that can be done anywhere with no equipment — and it is a great active social activity, too!

Of course, there are ways to up the intensity of your walk and modify your plan to reach specific goals. If you’re looking to lose weight or tone specific muscle groups, you may want to incorporate some other forms of exercise into your routine. That doesn’t mean you have to eliminate walking. Instead, try spicing up your walking routine by adding intervals, trails with different elevations and strength workouts.

In fact, the 31-day walking plan I created for TODAY includes strength-training exercises — this helps build muscle, which burns fat and helps tone the body.

How to make your walking workout more intense

So how can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your walk? Here are five ways to supercharge your walking routine:

  1. Walk for at least 30 minutes a day. If walking is your main source of exercise, set a goal of logging at least 30 minutes a day. If weight loss is your goal, aim for longer walks of 45-60 minutes when you can. Some people also find that setting a step goal — like 10,000 steps a day — helps motivate them. Choose a time or step goal that is attainable for you. If you need to start with just 10 minutes or 5,000 steps a day and build up, that is better than nothing! The first step is ensuring that you can be consistent with your walking; once you make it a daily habit, then work on increasing the duration.
  2. Pick up the pace. Walking briskly helps improve cardiovascular fitness and burns more calories. If you struggle to walk briskly for 30 minutes straight, try adding intervals into your walk. To alternate your pace, walk for one minute or one block at a regular pace, and then speed walk for the next minute or block. Be sure to adjust your routine so that you continue to make progress. If your walk starts to feel easier, that is a sign that it’s time to pick up the pace or adjust your intervals. For example, walking two to three minutes at a brisk pace and then recovering for one minute.
  3. Add in some hills. We all get stuck in the rut of taking that same route around the neighborhood. Switching things up keeps your body guessing and introduces new challenges, which will help you see results faster. Spice it up by finding a route with some elevation. Walking on an incline will engage your leg muscles more than walking on level ground, so take a path with some hills. This will make for a more intense workout for your glutes, hamstrings and quads, while also increasing your heart rate.
  4. Walk with hand or ankle weights. If you would like to see more progress when it comes to building muscle and toning, try adding weights. With ankle weights you are making your body work harder to perform the same walking movement. If you want to work your arms, try walking with light dumbbells or these body-weight arm exercises. One of my clients started walking with two, 20-ounce water bottles and makes it her goal to drink both of them by the time she makes it back to her house!
  5. Increase your distance over time. When it comes to any form of exercise, knowing when to increase the intensity of your workout is essential in making progress. This goes for walking as well. After consistently walking the same distance for a few weeks, try gradually increasing how far you go. Sometimes the best way to do this is with distraction! Get lost in a podcast or a playlist of your favorite music and the time will fly by. One of my clients uses her time speed walking through the neighborhood to say positive affirmations to herself like, “I am a walking machine!” and “I feel so good in my own skin!” Some days she gets so carried away with her affirmations that an hour goes by. She started noticing that she was sweatier and more out of breath after the longer walks, so that motivated her to get lost in her own positive self-talk more often.