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Can Walking Really Get You to Your (Fit) Destination?

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

I Would Walk 500 Miles

The Proclaimers Sing the Benefits of Walking

I Would Walk 500 Miles

But would you walk 10,000 steps?

By now you probably have heard the advice to walk at least 10,000 steps per day. I am on that mission now and, boy, it’s hard to get in all those steps day in and day out. Some days I am convinced the battery in my pedometer gave up the ghost. And that is after teaching a group fitness class and climbing the stairs to our new home several times.Kymberly's pedometer

What Will Walking Do For You?

Then I take my dog on her walk and still wonder — what will all this walking do for me? Is it sufficient to help me lose some of the menopause weight I put on? Or to keep my health at its excellent level? Do I need to walk faster, up and down hills to burn maximum calories? (For more on the relevance of high intensity interval exercise for people over 40, read this well-done post by our friend and colleague, Tamara Grand). Is a non-sweaty, beautiful, flat, beach mosey just as good? Will walking meet other fitness or emotional goals as well?

So I kicked into my fitness professional mode and did some digging through publications and research. Walking is still the number one most accessible, successful, popular way to exercise and stay active. Whether you choose to walk indoors on cardio equipment or at a mall, or outdoors on trails or through your neighborhood, the first and most critical key is to log steps. One foot in front of the other. 9,998, 9,999, 10,000!

Walk for Health

Hiking in Boulder, CO

Hiking in Boulder at Moderate Intensity, High Altitude, Strong Attitude!

Next step, (ha ha) is to prioritize your goals. That will determine the intensity your walk will take. Are you walking for health and longevity? To improve your mood and mental hardiness? Then getting in those 10,000 steps per day is the best advice. No need to worry about intensity, duration, style. In fact, any more walking than you are doing now will improve your health. Trading tv commercial time on the LazyBoy for marching in place until your show comes back on is a body and brain booster.

Walk to Keep Weight Off

What if weight maintenance is your goal? For once, research offers more info for women than men when it comes to specific suggestions on how much to walk for weight control. Turns out your age and gender affect the answer. (Just last week I told my group fitness class that the 10k minimum applied to all ages as far as I knew. Turns out I needed to know more. And now you know too!)

For women, recommended steps per day to stave off weight gain is broken down by age:

  • 18-40 12 000 steps per day (that’s what young pups get!)
  • 40-50 11,000
  • 50-60 10,000
  • 60+- 8,000

For men, it’s a little more generalized:

  • 18-50 12,000
  • 50+ 11,000

My professional opinion is that we need to move just as much, if not more as we age. (See our post Be Inspired to Age Actively). For our readers 60 years and up, why stop at 8,000 steps? Keep trying for 10k. You’ll get to more fun places!

Walk to Lose Weight

What if your goal is weight loss? Now we need to talk about intensity and getting the most out of your perambulations!

Walking at Rancho la Puerta

I averaged 14,000 steps per day at Rancho la Puerta Fitness Spa

First a Fun Fit Fact: (courtesy of Len Kravitz. PhD et al in “Walking Extravaganza,” IDEA Fitness Journal Oct 2013 pgs 40-47) Did you know your body has a natural or default walking speed that seems to be set to use fat as the optimal fuel source? Apparently our bodies naturally select a 2.8 mph walking pace as the most economical one. “Economical” in this case means expending the LEAST energy to sustain the activity. Not the pace for losing weight and burning max cals, but a great pace to using fat as fuel (vs carbos) and to stay motivated to keep moving moderately.

Moderate vs Brisk Intensity

What does “moderate” intensity mean though? If you walk about 100 steps per minute then you are cruising along at a moderate pace. Another way to calculate moderate intensity is to complete 3000 steps in 30 minutes. Interestingly enough — especially for those of you who prefer the elliptical machine, a pace as low as 1.7 mph with inclines of 6-9% still stimulates weight management (not LOSS, mind you).

Alexandra Walking stairs

“Do these stairs make me look sweaty?” Alexandra

However, we are talking about kicking it up yet another notch to use walking as a weight loss means. We’re now into the “brisk” walk category. That 2.8 mph has to shift into calorie overdrive to 3.5 mph. Zoom zoom! Yes, walk faster! Go uphills. HIt the incline button. Breathe and sweat with no breaks for instagramming selfies. (That was for my sister, the ultimate selfie picture taker who is famously quoted as saying she does not want to actually sweat when walking.)

If you are tempted to add ankle or hand weights in order to increase intensity — uh unh, no, stop right there. Listen to the experts:

NOT Recommended for Walkers

  • Carrying hand weights;
  • Wearing ankle weights.

Either may result in injury or repetitive stress syndrome. Nor do those added weights increase energy expenditure. Walkers tend to slow down just enough to account for the weights at the end of those limbs. Yes, risk goes up, benefits do not.

Recommended for Walkers

  • If you must strap on added weight, wear a weighted vest to increase energy expenditure. The external weight is distributed more evenly and is close to your core so not putting mechanical stress on your joints;
  • Accumulate 30-60 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise at least 5 days per week OR:
  • Get in 20-60 minutes per day of vigorous intensity activity at least 3 days per week. These guidelines come from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Another Fun Fit Fact

A pedometer study of an Old Order Amish community showed that the men averaged 18,000 steps per day and have an obesity rate of ZERO!! percent. Yes, 0%; The Amish women in this group averaged 14,000 steps per day with an obesity rate of just 4%.

Find More Fun Fit Facts, Walking Scoop, and Solutions for Wanna Be Walkers by clicking on any of these posts:

Walk Your Way to Weight Loss, Health, and Fitness

How to Walk a Half Marathon After Knee Surgery

Hike with the Leeches and Wildlife in Thailand (or not, as our story reveals

Walk This Way and We’ll Talk Your Way when you:

Hire us to speak at your next meeting or conference. Call (805) 403-4338 or email info@funandfit.org.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel and blog

Follow us on google +Alexandra and +Kymberly, on Twitter:  AlexandraFunFit and KymberlyFunFit and Instagram: KymberlyFunFit and AlexandraFunFit.

About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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15 Responses to Can Walking Really Get You to Your (Fit) Destination?

  1. Aqiyl Aniys November 22, 2013 at 7:01 am #

    I think walking is a great everyday day activity for older people who don’t want to exercise. It will not get you in super duper shape but it will help to maintain healthy living. We just need to move so walking is better than not moving, or not moving at an intense level.
    If you want to strengthen you cardio though, more than walking is needed.
    Aqiyl Aniys recently posted..Finding Happiness: Quotes That Highlight The PathMy Profile

  2. Sandra Sallin November 22, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Loved this post and love walking. I hike the hills around our house and it’s fun to just walk out the door for exercise. Very Infomative. Thanks. You guys are great.
    Sandra Sallin recently posted..IF YOU CAN’T MAKE THE BEST CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉ WITH THIS RECIPE –– BUY DOUGHNUTSMy Profile

  3. Sandra Sallin November 22, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    How do you feel about walking to a video? I thought I’d do that on rainy days.
    Sandra Sallin recently posted..IF YOU CAN’T MAKE THE BEST CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉ WITH THIS RECIPE –– BUY DOUGHNUTSMy Profile

  4. Karen @ Baking In A Tornado November 22, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    When my kids were little I used to walk 4 miles a day pushing them in a double stroller. I was in the best shape I think I’ve ever been in. Not only that but my kids learned their address and phone number by us making a song out of it and singing it as we ended our walk each day.
    Karen @ Baking In A Tornado recently posted..November Fly on the WallMy Profile

  5. Yum Yucky November 22, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    I lost my first 20 pounds or so by walking 3-miles a day and eating Lean Cuisines (food which I do not recommend at this post). More than anything, walking refreshes me mentally. Makes me feel all vivacious ‘n stuff. If I had to pick only exercise to ever do again and nothing else, it would be walking.
    Yum Yucky recently posted..Greedy Giveaway! The Quantum Scale (it never shows your weight)My Profile

  6. Captain Competition November 22, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    Walking is one of the most underrated exercises. It is great for those just starting out that need to or want to lose a significant amount of weight.
    Captain Competition recently posted..Other People’s Food – Jalapeno Sweet Potato Chicken ChiliMy Profile

  7. Elin Stebbins Waldal November 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Great information in this article. I am a recovering runner. I have found walking lends itself to really taking in the scenery, I feel as if I am more in the present moment. When I used to run long distances it was wonderful for my head and body but I rarely took in the beauty that surrounded me. With walking I get all of it.
    Elin Stebbins Waldal recently posted..Missing the Mark: Unraveling a Convoluted Blog PostMy Profile

  8. Jody - Fit at 56 November 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    LOVE!!! Lots of people have restrictions that inhibit HIIT or even intervals so I love this AND that you back it up with you have to move faster for weight loss… BUT YES, just move & walk & get off the butt for better health! Hills for the behind too! :)
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted..I Don’t Feel Like It…My Profile

  9. Tara Burner November 23, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    I know I haven’t been walking much lately :(
    been inundated with other nonsense and I miss my walks
    my BF walks a lot though
    and he’s in shape, stays active just walking (and working)
    Tara Burner recently posted..3 Things You Should Appreciate & Value In LifeMy Profile

  10. Cathy Chester November 24, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Great article.

    As much as I’d love to lose weight I cannot add intensity to my walking because of my illness. So I’ll have to keep walking when I can as long as I can (which for you guys would not seem that long.)

    I also wish I lived in a warmer climate, because I am relegated to the boring treadmill in the winter.

    You guys rock,and I appreciate your great advice!
    Cathy Chester recently posted..Where Were You That Day? On Halloween My Brother And I Dressed As President And Mrs. Kennedy. Three Weeks Later Camelot Was OverMy Profile

  11. GiGi Eats Celebrities November 30, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    I TRULY believe walking steps HELPS tremendously!!!!!!! My mom wears a pedometer and gets roughly 20k a day, and she’s the most in shape person I know! :D
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted..A Thanksgiving TaleMy Profile

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    […] I wanted to know how much I was moving on days I DIDN’T teach. Women my age are recommended to walk 10,000 steps per day, but I plan to actually lose a few pounds, so I’d like to be more like an Amish woman […]

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    […] healthier when you spend time outdoors. And if you want to know how many steps you need to take to stave off weight gain, read this post […]

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