Health Benefits of Brisk Walking
Moving is good for your body. Doctors and experts keep saying it: doing physical activity, even 30 minutes a day, carries many benefits to your overall health and fitness.
Most of the time, though, if you think of physical activity, you imagine some extreme workout or a lot of fatigue. And that’s why you end up sitting on your sofa watching the latest Netflix or chatting with friends. But what if I told you that there’s an exercise you can do that is cheap, easy, and doesn’t require any special equipment? Yes, there’s such an activity, and it is something we probably do every day. I’m talking about walking.
A 30-minute walk can have a tremendous impact on your health if you do it every day: it strengthens your bones and muscles, reduces your body fat, and increases your cardiovascular health. And it’s easy! Walking is one of the first things we learn to do in life, and it’s the primary way of moving our bodies. So why not use that?
To get its benefits, you should know how to walk. If your pace is too slow, you might have a pleasant walk, but you won’t get a health boost. On the other side, going too fast can damage your muscles (if you’re not used to movement) or even stress your heart. To get the most out of it, you should walk at a moderate pace. That’s what is called brisk walking.
What is brisk walking?
Brisk walking involves a pace that is faster than regular walking. It’s defined as a “moderate-intensity aerobic activity”: this means that it makes you sweat and your heart beats faster. Another way to define it is as a form of walking where you can talk, but you cannot sing.
Brisk walking is for everyone: it’s one of the easiest and cheapest physical activities you can do to take care of your health. You can walk everywhere, at every age, and don’t need special equipment – apart from good shoes.
As said before, brisk walking means walking at a faster pace. But what does faster pace exactly mean? You can measure how fast it is fast enough by counting either your heart rate or your steps per minute.
The heart rate measures your heart’s beats per minute. According to the American Heart Organization, your resting heart rate is the number of heartbeats per minute when you’re at rest. You can measure it in the morning, as soon as you wake up. Some factors like stress, anxiety, or medications can influence your heart rate. That’s why it’s always better to measure it first thing in the morning, before taking medications or starting any activity that may influence your anxiety level.
The average heart rate values span between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). In general, the lower, the better: when it pumps at a slower pace, your heart muscle doesn’t have to overwork and maintains a good condition. Several factors act on your rest heart rate: stress, hormones, medication, and physical shape. Doing regular physical activity can lower it – if you’re an athlete or a very active person, your resting heart can reach 40 bpm or lower.
Target heart rate: what is it, and how to calculate it?
When you’re doing physical exercise, your heart pumps more blood to bring more oxygen to your muscles. In these cases, your heart rate is not at its lower value, but you can still measure it and get an idea of its performance. Your target heart rate measures the number of times your heart should beat when you exercise.
The target heart rate varies whether you’re doing moderate or vigorous physical activity and depends on your age. To calculate it, you need first to estimate your maximum heart rate (which is related to your age). You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you’re 45, your maximum heart rate would be 220 - 45 = 175 bpm.
With this value, you can calculate your target heart for moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity physical activity. According to the American Heart Association, these values should be, respectively, between 55% and 69% and between 70% and 89% of your maximum heart rate. Taking the same example as above (a 45-year-old person), the target heart rate would be 175 bpm x 0.55 = 96 bpm, and 175 bpm x 0.69 = 121 bpm for moderate-intensity activity; while for a vigorous-intensity activity would be 175 bpm x 0.70 = 123 bpm bpm and 175 bpm x 0.89 = 156 bpm.
How to monitor your target heart rate?
To monitor your target heart rate, you can either use a wearable device (tracker) or measure it manually. In the last case, you need to place your fingers on the inside of your left wrist. Remember to use your index or middle fingers instead of your thumb: since the thumb has its pulse, it can distort the measurement. After you feel the pulse, you need to:
- Count the number of beats you feel for 30 seconds;
- Multiply the value you get by two. In this way, you’ll have your heart rate in bpm.
For example, if you count 50 beats in 30 seconds, your heart rate is 100 bpm. If you’re 45, this value puts you right at the beginning of the moderate activity zone (remember, it starts at 175 bpm x 0.55 = 96 bpm). If you want, you can speed up a little bit or keep this pace.
Remember to periodically check your heart rate while you exercise: a low value means you’re not making enough effort, and you should push a bit harder (especially if you want to burn calories). If the value is too high, probably you’re straining: you should slow down because you risk stressing your heart.
A good tip is to start slow and then increase from time to time. If you’re a beginner, you can aim for the lowest end of your target heart rate zone (55% for moderate activity and 70% for vigorous exercise) and make gradual improvements.
Steps per minute
Another way to measure your pace is through your steps per minute. How many steps do you do in a minute? If you know this value, you can determine the intensity of your aerobic activity. According to a British Journal of Sports Medicine study, 100 steps per minute is a reasonable value for adults under 60 years old. You can count your steps per minute by wearing a tracker.
The talk test
Another way to determine whether you’re walking too fast, at a moderate pace, or too slow is the so-called talk test. What does it mean? In general, when you’re exercising too hard, you can barely talk, as your body is too busy doing the workout. A moderate activity allows you to talk (maybe not too much!), while if you can talk and sing effortlessly, perhaps you’re not exercising enough.
How to determine whether you’re walking too slow or too fast?
- If you can talk comfortably and feel some breathlessness at some point, you’re walking at a moderate speed (it’s the case of brisk walking);
- If you can’t talk easily, perhaps you’re out of breath, and you’re walking at a pretty high pace;
- Try to sing: if you can sing out loud, most probably, your speed is too slow (you’re not doing brisk walk).
Health benefits of brisk walking
Like every physical activity, walking makes you burn calories. The number of calories you burn by brisk walking depends on your weight and pace (it increases with your speed). On average, you burn between 125 and 300 calories in 30 minutes. If you walk briskly for 30 minutes every day, you can burn between 875 and 2100 calories per week (remember that this value is an estimate: you need to take into account your weight and your walking pace).
Better heart health
Walking decreases your low-density cholesterol (LDL) levels. LDL is also called “bad cholesterol” as it clogs up your blood vessels and increases your blood pressure. By lowering your LDL, your blood pressure stabilizes, and you get overall better heart health.
At the same time, your heart rate gets more stable and regular. A lower heartbeat means better health since the heart makes fewer efforts to pump blood. Ultimately, brisk walking contributes to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Lower blood sugar levels
Exercise is a potent tool to prevent diabetes: studies showed that physical activity decreases your blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity. Having a higher insulin sensitivity means that your body’s cells have an improved ability to convert glucose into energy. This, in turn, lowers your type 2 diabetes risk.
Improved varicose veins
Walking strengthens your leg muscles without stressing them too much: that’s the perfect activity to do if you have varicose veins. Walking improves the circulation in your body and relieves the symptoms of varicose veins (or prevents them).
Increased lung capacity
When you exercise, your lungs work harder to supply the additional oxygen demand in your muscles. With time, your body becomes more efficient at getting oxygen into your blood and transporting it to the muscles.
Having a better lung capacity means that you’re less likely to fall out of breath. Think about the stairs you do every day: the first time, you might feel breathless on the first flight. But, if you do them regularly, you won’t be out of breath again.
Better mental health
Exercise is good to boost your mood as it releases endorphins (the so-called “feel-good molecules”). Endorphins are neurotransmitters that increase your sense of pleasure and well-being and lower pain. As a result, when your body releases them, you feel more relaxed or happy, and your stress and anxiety trim down.
Physical activity has some evidence to prevent depression due to the high levels of endorphins it releases. Next time you feel down, try to grab your pair of shoes and go for a walk (instead of scrolling your phone or indulging in alcohol or junk food). The benefits of physical activity on your mood are countless: you will feel much better after a good workout or even a short walk.
Better brain function
Physical activity helps your brain function. Did it ever happen to you to feel stuck at work or puzzled about a decision to take and getting a clearer picture after a walk or an hour at the gym? That’s because exercise helps you to focus and stimulates your brain. You might wonder why: better blood flow also impacts your brain – with a higher blood flow oxygenation, your brain cells work better.
Improved physical shape
Better heart health and lung capacity, happier mood, lower risk of CVD and diabetes: the global benefits of brisk walking on your physical shape are countless. That’s not all: it has other advantages. Some of them? You’ll sleep better, be more focused and productive, and boost your immune system.
Ready to go?
Once you’ve decided how to measure your speed and how fast you should walk, you’re ready to go! Take comfortable clothes – neither too hot nor too warm – good sneakers (that’s the most important tool you need), and start walking!
Remember to protect your skin if it’s summer: use proper sunscreen and wear a hat to protect your body from sunlight. In winter, choose comfortable, layered clothes with good protection from wind and cold, and bring waterproof equipment that protects you in case of rain.
How to practice brisk walking effectively
Adopt the right posture
Walking is one of the most natural movements we do. But there’s a technique to do it properly, without stressing your muscles and bones. What are the main precautions you need to take care of your posture?
- Stand up straight, without leaning forward or slouching.
- Keep your head up and your eyes looking forward.
- Relax your jaw and neck.
- Let your shoulders relax: they need to be slightly back.
- Relax your back without arching it. An excellent way to do so is to keep the chin parallel to the ground and use your abdominal muscles to maintain your back up.
- Keep your hands free and your arms close to your body.
- Bend the arms 90 degrees and keep your elbows as close to your body as possible.
- Let your arms swing in opposition to your feet, and try not to move them in diagonal but to keep a “forward-and-back” movement.
- The feet roll from heel to toe. At the end of each gait, use your toe to push off.
- Keep a steady gait.
Choosing the right shoes is vital. You can find many of them in specialized stores. Remember to choose comfortable shoes with proper heel and arch supports. Whenever possible, walk on grass rather than on concrete: in this way, your body absorbs the impact better.
How to walk faster?
We usually think that walking faster means doing more steps. But that’s not how you effectively increase your pace. The key to walking faster is to take quicker steps instead of long strides. Try to push yourself with your back foot and back leg at each step, and place your foot as close to your body as possible (instead of putting it too far from your body).
A good rule is to let your foot hit the ground closer to your body instead of overstriding: in this way, you maximize the power of each stride and use it to push for your next step.
Warm up and cool down
Before exercising, remember to do some stretching to warm up. You can start walking at a slower pace and then stretch your muscles (especially your legs), keeping each position for around 20 seconds. The same when you finish: cool down your muscles by doing some mild gymnastics or stretching.
Don’t forget that your body needs to be hydrated, especially during physical activity: you lose liquids through sweat, and you need to restore your water levels. Drink before and after walking (don’t do it while you’re exercising: if the water is too cold, you may risk thermal shock).
Taking multivitamins before or after the activity helps you supply the vitamins and minerals you lose during exercise. Vitamins and minerals are the first nutrients you lose with exercise (especially with your sweat), but they’re essential to your body, so you need to restore them.
Check our multivitamin, which is designed for people aged over 40 and provides you with all the vitamins you need to keep an adequate balance of nutrients.
Don’t forget that brisk walking is an outdoor activity: don’t wear headphones (or put them at the lowest volume). Otherwise, you wouldn’t hear if someone is signaling you a danger.
A few more tips…
To make walking more stimulating, you can do it with family or friends or choose a different route every day. You can also walk in the same place but at different hours: you can have fun trying to spot the differences in the morning and the evenings – the people you see, the animals, the cars, or the shops.
If you’re a nature lover, you can also plan some outdoor activity: walking in nature carries additional benefits along the way, as it’s pretty more relaxing and joyful than doing it in the middle of the city. Consider joining a walking club: you can find several people with whom you can plan a group activity, which is fun and highly beneficial to your mood. There are many walking clubs in Canada, have a look at this link to find the ones close to you.
How often should you do brisk walking?
You should do brisk walking at least 30 minutes per day, five days a week, to get the most of it. There’s no maximum limit: the more you walk, the better you’ll feel. Evidence shows that death risk lowers when you increase the number of steps you take.
If you don’t have enough time to walk for 30 minutes in a row (or aren’t trained enough), you can split your walk into two 15-minute sessions. In any case, try not to walk less than 10 minutes in a row.
That’s almost all for today. One last thing: if you want to know more about walking, check this PDF guide with valuable resources and guidelines. You can find complete information, from getting started to the equipment to use, the best stretching to do, plus tips to keep the motivation high and recommendations on intensity and frequency of walking.
Brisk walking: a wrap-up
Walking at a brisk pace is one of the best ways to maintain good health: it’s cheap, easy to do, and you can walk wherever you want, whenever you want. Even 15 minutes per day are enough to get its benefits. With brisk walking, you get a better blood flow, increase your heart’s and lungs’ health, manage your weight, improve your sleep, reduce stress, improve your focus at work and life in general.
You don’t need to take specific precautions before starting, except buying proper shoes and adopting a correct posture. In the case you have health concerns or any injuries, you should talk to your doctor to decide if brisk walking is suitable for you. In the case you have other diseases (such as diabetes), you may need to do some tests before starting an intense aerobic activity.