- Exercise can boost your lifespan and heart health, and walking counts, a cardiologist said.
- You don’t need to hit 10,000 steps every day to get healthier. Even an extra 500 steps helps.
- Start small and stay consistent by making exercise fun with friends or even TikTok challenges.
A long, healthy life starts with taking a simple first step toward better health – literally.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to improve your health and extend your lifespan by preventing illnesses like heart disease, said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, preventative cardiologist, author, and Bayer Aspirin partner.
“I always say, ‘Exercise is the best medication,'” she told Insider.
Your daily activity level is an important factor in overall heart health, and being sedentary can increase your risk of heart disease.
With new research suggesting that even short walks have big health benefits, Steinbaum said adding a few more steps to your day can pay off, and you can start small with a few blocks at a time.
“Doing something is better than doing nothing,” she said. “If walking is the beginning stages of embracing a heart-healthy life, then it is the initial stages that will create habits that will be sustainable and last for a lifetime.”
Walking can help you get healthy and fit even if you can’t make it to the gym
Typical health guidelines, including from the CDC and American Heart Association, recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. While hitting the gym is great for your health, going for a quick stroll adds up in your weekly exercise total, too.
“Walking can absolutely count towards those guidelines, if the walking is done as a deliberate and intentional exercise with a focus on the appropriate heart rate zone,” Steinbaum said.
A big advantage of walking as exercise is that it doesn’t take any special warm-up or preparation, and you can do it just about anywhere even as a complete fitness beginner.
To begin a habit of walking as a beginner, she recommends starting with just a few minutes and gradually working your way up.
“The slower you start, the less frustrated you will feel and the faster you will progress. The key is routine and regularity. Just do a little bit every single day,” Steinbaum said.
A good goal is to aim for even a short walk (starting with a few blocks) every day for six weeks, which is enough time to form a habit and help motivate you to keep going, she said.
Starting slow with an exercise routine and progressing over time can help prevent burnout and injury, other experts previously told Insider.
You don’t need to walk 10,000 steps a day — even an extra 5 minutes can help
A common misconception is that walking 10,000 steps a day is best for your health, but that’s a myth based on marketing. You can get significant health benefits by doing less, research suggests.
A new study found 2,300 to 4,000 steps a day is linked to lower rates of heart disease and early death, and adding 500 to 1000 steps per day can further reduce the risk.
More isn’t always better. Evidence suggests that younger people can benefit from up to 20,000 steps per day, but between 6,000 to 10,000 steps per day is ideal for people older than 60, she said.
Your walking speed also matters — “To be the most effective form of exercise, it should be focused and intentional, with a goal of “getting the heart rate into the moderate intensity zone, she said.
A good benchmark of intensity is finding a brisk pace that takes some effort, but not so much that you’re out of breath and can’t carry a conversation, evidence suggests.
Stay motivated to exercise by making it a fun part of your routine
In order to benefit from any exercise, you need to be consistent with doing it regularly over time.
Finding ways to make exercise fun can be a big help, according to Steinbaum, who said she walks as much as possible during the day and makes time for dance classes that she enjoys.
“I love to move! It makes me feel invigorated and energized,” she said. “When you find something you love to do, then it is not a chore. It becomes something fun that you look forward to.”
Research suggests that making exercise a social activity is one of the best ways to stay motivated, so going for a walk with friends can help you stick to a routine.
TikTok walking challenges, like the trend of logging 50 miles of walking per month, can also improve your health, Steinbaum said.
“This TikTok trend was a wonderful way to get people moving, and to encourage people to walk 3,500 steps a day, for 50 miles a month, captured exactly what we need to do for overall heart health,” she said.
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