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Why Walking Is the Next Big Exercise Trend
It’s minimal on impact and packs maximum health benefits. Here’s why you should consider taking a walk on the wild (or urban) side during your next workout.
The next big trend in fitness is not a new piece of at-home equipment that costs thousands of dollars or a high-tech recovery gadget that promises to ease your aching muscles in minutes. In fact, the latest trend is totally free and the only thing it requires is a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
That’s right, walking—right foot, left foot, repeat—is hitting its stride as a major fitness activity in 2021. Learn more about the benefits of walking and how to add walking intervals to your workout routine.
Walking Is Having a Moment
While social media may have gone crazy with the exercise bike trend in 2020, just as many people (if not more) found joy in exercising outside for the first time in years. In fact, 59 percent of active adults chose outdoor activities like walking as the best way to stay fit in 2021, a 15 percent increase from the start of 2020, according to one survey. At the same time, 39 percent of gym members reported switching to walking and other outdoor activities in 2021.
Fitness tracker company Strava’s annual report supports that uptick. According to their 2020 data on 73 million athletes, uploads of outdoor walks tripled year-over-year. Even cyclists switched up their fitness routines; walking was the top new activity for cyclists on the platform between April and June.
Why the sudden obsession with walking? For many people, walking has been a way to connect safely with others. “Walking is one of the easiest exercise activities to make social,” says Dani Singer, CEO and director of Fit2Go Personal Training in Baltimore, MD. “Not only is walking something you can do together with a friend, but due to its low intensity, you can hold a conversation throughout. Pair that with the mass isolation we've seen during the pandemic, and it's no surprise that walking has become popular recently.”
“Walking is so popular right now because people are starting to prioritize their health,” adds Joey Munoz, a NASM certified trainer and UESCA certified running coach in Chicago. “Plus, it’s easy, free and everyone can do it!”
Benefits of Walking
“Walking is great for your heart and great for your mood,” says Munoz, who encourages his clients to lace up their walking shoes and hit the pavement for 30 minutes per day.
“Walking is the most basic form of cardiovascular exercise,” says Singer. “Benefits of walking include lowered risk of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, improved blood circulation, increased energy, enhanced balance and coordination and much more.”
And while the activity may eventually evolve into running for some, walking is a great aerobic exercise option on its own. Aside from the physical benefits, walking has been shown to boost creativity and brain function, and the endorphins from walking lead to a better mood and stress relief. You can even make walking a part of your mindfulness routine by trying a meditative walk, which is often easier for reluctant meditators than sitting quietly in a dark room.
What’s more, walking can fit into anyone’s workout routine, whether you’re easing back into things after a sedentary year or you’re looking for a form of active recovery to complement your more intense workouts. “Unless you have an injury that stops you from walking, it’s an exercise form that can benefit anyone,” says trainer Emily Taylor at Fitness Lab in London. “If you're new to fitness, walking will gradually increase your cardiovascular health and endurance. If you're a seasoned athlete, walking is a great option for active recovery.” If you're aiming to lose weight, she adds, increasing your steps can help you maintain a calorie deficit.
Walking the Walk
To get the most out of a walking workout, make sure you have the right gear. You’re looking for shoes that support the heels, arches and toes, with a lot of flexibility in part of the shoe where your toes meet the ball of your foot. (Need a little help? Here are the best shoes for walking.)
Then, do a quick form check. Straighten your spine and lift your head as if an invisible puppet string is gently tugging the top of your head towards the sky. Roll your shoulders back and down to relax your neck. As you move, let your arms swing freely, adding in a 90-degree bend in your elbows for extra propulsion. Finally, tighten your core and focus on landing each step on your heel before rolling to your toes in a smooth, even stride.
To amp up the intensity of your walk, try one of these ideas:
Incline Challenge: If you’re using a treadmill, walk at a 12 percent incline at 3-miles-per-hour speed for 30 minutes. (If you’re just starting, use a 6 percent incline instead.)
Weight Challenge: Add a weighted vest for resistance training in your walking workouts. The extra pounds put pressure on your bones to stimulate the growth of new cells, which help fight bone loss. (Use no more than 10 percent of your body weight.)
Interval Challenge: Walk for one minute at a faster pace, one minute at a slower pace, during your aerobic walk.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy a walking workout—which is one reason why so many people are doing it. The basic act of walking is as old as humankind itself, so don’t overthink things. Lace up your shoes, head out the door and you’re well on your way to taking steps toward better health.