Walking for Fitness: Walk This Many Miles to Stay Fit

It's an everyday activity that mankind has been doing since the dawn of time, but if you're walking for heart health you have to do enough of it to really stay in shape.

Doctors say that when it comes to walking for fitness, the magic number is about 10,000 steps -- which works out to walking about 5 miles. And in a recent study, walking that distance proved critical to both cardiovascular fitness and blood sugar levels.

Magic Number
In the recent study, otherwise healthy people who dropped from walking 10,000 steps to about 1,000 steps daily had higher insulin resistance and weaker cardiovascular fitness after just 2 weeks of cutting back. Basically, in just 14 days of fewer steps, their hearts started to process oxygen less efficiently, and their blood couldn't break down sugars as well. Pretty rapid decline! (Related: Find out the best walking pace.)

Start Counting
So 10,000 steps a day might seem like a lot, but don't worry: Every step counts. Walking around the yard, heading to the post office, or dropping in on a neighbor -- it all adds up. And even if you don't have the time or stamina for the full 10,000 steps, shorter distances can help, too. What's more, regular walks could be one of the best (and healthiest) painkillers around. For instance, in a recent study of osteoarthritis patients, taking glucosamine supplements for 6 weeks and then starting a progressive walking program significantly relieved joint pain.

Steps to Better Health
Many walking promoters swear by the "progressive walking" system. It's simple: Start out slow, and gradually increase how many steps you take per walk every 6 weeks. For the first 6 weeks, just shoot for reaching 3,000 steps a day in two walking bouts (as long as your doctor gives you the green light). Ready to walk for fitness? Discover the seven secrets to sticking to a walking plan.

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