Walk This Way, Live Longer

Walk This Way, Live Longer

Walking at a certain speed has anti-aging benefits.

If you're a walker and you've been pacing along doing 10,000 steps, or around an hour and a half of walking almost every day, we have good news (you’re slashing your risk for dementia, cardio problems, and mobility issues), followed by even better news (read on). But if you haven't joined the millions of North Americans who purposefully stride through parks, along city streets, and in malls every day, don't lose heart (that’s something we want to help you protect!). If you start to put one foot in front of the other, you’ll not only discover that walking is fun and relieves stress, as you head toward a much younger RealAge, you’ll cut your risk of premature death by up to 50%! So, here's how to get started and how to measure the health benefits you gain.

Step One: Assess your current walking pace for 1/4 mile on a local running track or a treadmill. Your first “pace off” should be untimed; instead, monitor how your effort feels. On a scale of 1 to 10 -- 1is “I’m barely moving” and 10 “I'm breathing hard and sweating” -- aim for about a 7. It should feel a little challenging (but you can talk comfortably) and you are breathing more deeply than normal. If that’s too intense, dial it back to a 6.

Step Two: Walk as quickly as you comfortably can on a treadmill or a track for six timed minutes. Check your distance. Then multiply it times 10 -- that’ll give you an estimate of your speed and how far you can go in an hour (mph). Depending on your age, how tall you are, how much you weigh, and the terrain you're walking, a normal walking pace varies between 3 and 3.5 miles per hour. From there you can build more speed and intensity.

Step Three: Step it up three times a week for 20 minutes (do a steady-paced walk on other days). Here’s the drill: Warm up for five minutes. Then move at your regular pace for about a minute, followed by a 20- to 30-second burst of faster walking. Repeat this pattern--we call it interval training -- for 20 minutes; cool down for five minutes. As you become stronger, try equal-length bursts of fast- and regular-pace activity.

The Benefits: Pushing yourself even for short intervals of time during a work-out burns more calories and more fat, improves blood sugar levels, and enhances heart and blood vessel functioning. A livelier tempo also invites the power plants inside every cell in your body (mitochondria) to work smarter, so you’re more energetic.

An important new study tracked the walking speed and health of almost 39,000 walkers. It found that those with the very slowest speed had the worst health results. But if you’re a slow walker, and you’re willing to step it up, you don’t need to worry! We loved learning from this study that bumping up your speed just a little bit has huge health benefits: Folks in the second-slowest walking group -- in some cases they walked just a minute faster per mile than the slowest strollers -- reduced their added risk of early death by more than 50%! Plus, moving faster by just 60 seconds also translated into a 2-6% lower risk for diabetes, dementia, heart disease, high blood pressure, and heart attacks.

As you get stronger and faster, the benefits pile up! In the study, the fastest walkers were 44% less likely to meet an early end compared to those who took 24 minutes or more to cover a mile (2.5 mph). So grab a walking partner (both of you stay motivated) and a pedometer (it lets you see your progress) and put on those walking shoes (get fitted at a store where they know about foot fall and how to make sure you’re injury free)! You’ll walk your way into a longer life, a happier outlook, and a better body (always fun!).

Related: Walk each day for breast cancer prevention.

Medically reviewed in May 2019.

6 Ways to Burn Fat Faster (No Running Needed!)
6 Ways to Burn Fat Faster (No Running Needed!)
1. Go up (and down). Do 15 minutes of a 35-minute walk on hills, not flat ground, and you'll burn close to 100 extra calories, according to walking gu...
Read More
What is a walking coach?
Jonathan PenneyJonathan Penney
A walking coach is a coach to assist in your walking efforts.  These coaches have extensive backgrou...
More Answers
Get the Most Out of Winter Walking
Get the Most Out of Winter WalkingGet the Most Out of Winter WalkingGet the Most Out of Winter WalkingGet the Most Out of Winter Walking
Don’t let cold weather stop you from burning calories and having fun with friends.
Start Slideshow
How Does Exercise Benefit People With COPD?
How Does Exercise Benefit People With COPD?