Fast or Slow, Why Walking is Good for You
Walking may be the most underrated form of exercise. It’s something most of us do every day. You don’t need a gym membership or special equipment. A toddler can do it. So can an octogenarian. Walking at any speed has all kinds of benefits, from improved mood to heart health. But is it better to walk fast or slow? Is it enough to to amble, stopping to chat with neighbors or pet cats, or do you need to pump your arms and maintain a brisk pace?
Relax, dawdlers. Both are good for you, just in different ways! Read on to learn what walking at a fast or slow pace can do for you.
The Benefits of Fast Walking
Live longer. A new study indicates that “brisk walkers have up to 20 years’ greater life expectancy compared to slow walkers.” That’s because speedy walking is associated with longer telomeres, a marker of biological age. For the purposes of the study, less than three miles per hour was considered a slow pace, three-to-four miles per hour was a steady/average pace, and more than four miles per hour counted as a brisk pace. The good news for slow walkers? You only need to walk at a brisk pace for 10 minutes a day to receive the benefits of longer life expectancy.
Improve your health. Researchers compared the results of the landmark National Runners’ Health Study with the National Walkers’ Health Study and found that moderate-intensity walkers and those who ran at a vigorous pace experienced similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. So if you hate to run or find it’s hard on your body, swapping out a run for a brisk walk is just fine.
Build strength. Brisk walking has been shown to improve muscular strength and to help prevent muscle loss associated with aging. This is especially true if you incorporate some hills into your daily routine. The KEEN team is lucky enough to have a dormant volcano nearby to make elevation gain a breeze, but adding in a flight or two of park or stadium stairs will also do the trick!
Boost your immune system. Walking briskly activates several types of immune cells that attack pathogens in our bodies, which can lower our risk of illness. Research has also found that when people do get sick, the ones who regularly go for a brisk walk spend less time in the hospital.
Build strong bones. A New England Journal of Medicine study found that walking can reduce the risk of hip fractures by 30 percent. The effect is even more pronounced when you walk quickly: The large-scale Nurses’ Health Study found that participants who walked briskly at least four times a week had a much lower risk of hip fractures than women who walked more slowly.
The Benefits of Slow Walking
Go easy on your joints. Walking more slowly is easier on joints than walking quickly. In fact, strolling instead of walking more briskly reduces the load on the knee joint by 25 percent. So if you have a bum knee or a trick hip, you can still get the benefits of walking by turning down the intensity.
Burn more calories! It may seem counterintuitive, but researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have confirmed that people burn more calories per mile when walking at two miles per hour than walking at three-to-four miles per hour. That’s because walking slowly is less efficient and makes muscles work a little harder with each step.
Improve your mood. Walking, even for as little as 10 minutes, has been shown to lift your spirits. The effect is even more pronounced if you’re walking in an area with trees and plants. Walking calms the nervous system and forces us out of negative thought patterns that can make us feel depressed or anxious. All the more reason to make time for a stroll in a garden, arboretum, or city park.
KEEN tip: You get even more mental health benefits when you bring a friend along. The feeling of connectedness that comes from spending time with people who care about us boosts the hormone levels in the brain that help us feel energized and happy.
Get a brain boost. At any speed, going for a walk can spark creativity. In fact, A Stanford University study found that walking can increase our creative output by an average of 60 percent. When we walk, it gives us time to let our minds wander. That state of flow and open-mindedness inspires innovative thinking and problem-solving. So if you’re stuck on a seemingly insoluble work problem, step away from the computer and go for a walk.
Sleep better. Walking naturally enhances the effects of the hormone melatonin, which can trigger a deeper and more restful sleep. It also helps alleviate the aches, pains, and mental stress that keep us up at night.
KEEN tip: The right footwear will make the road (or the trail) a lot more enjoyable. Walking sandals like the men’s and women’s Newport are ready for everything, from beach walks to loops around the local park. Or check out this guide to find the best shoes for everyday strolls.
Other Ways to Walk
There’s more to walking than going quickly or slowly. If you’re looking for a little something extra, here are some ways to enhance your walking experience.
If you’re wondering, ‘what the heck is plalking?’, you’re not alone. It’s something you may have already been doing without realizing it had a name. Quite simply, it’s a portmanteau that means “picking litter while walking.” When you’re plalking, you are constantly bending, reaching, and squatting, which is great for strength and balance. Plus, you’re helping to make your community cleaner and healthier at the same time. There’s nothing more mood-boosting than helping others!
KEEN tip: You’ll want to wear thick gloves and bring a picker with you, along with a sturdy garbage bag. Contact your local waste management company for information on how to safely dispose of sharps.
When we’re in a hurry, which is usually, we race through the world without paying much attention to what’s around us. A walking meditation slows us down and tunes us into the sights and sounds of the natural world. When we connect to our senses and to the present moment, it enhances our sense of peace, calm, and well-being. Walking meditation is something you can do anywhere for any amount of time. If you need help getting started, try this guided walking meditation.
Bottom line? There’s no right or wrong way to walk. At any speed, at any distance, in any place, the key to making walking part of your routine is to put on your shoes and go. You’ll be amazed that something so simple can have such a positive impact. So what are you waiting for? Time for a walk!