April 12, 2021 10 min read

Walking is such a fundamental part of our lives, that we often forget that it can be a form of exercise as well. Especially when someone is first starting out on the path to their fitness goals, walking is often recommended to get them into the swing of things.

It’s simple, low-impact, low-exertion, and most people can do it no-problem. Not to mention that the benefits are very real. But how much is enough? A mile is a good place to start with this question.

Most people can visualize it, and it’s not a very far distance. But as you can imagine, a shorter walk won’t offer the same benefits as something more intensive.

How Much Exercise is Enough?

Starting at a mile a day is extremely accessible for most people, making it a terrific place to start. However, can you expect any results with such a relatively small amount of exercise? To find out the answer to this question, it’ll be helpful to check out the recommended amount of exercise.

The most commonly cited advice is the one given by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s recommended that adults get between 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. If you want to ramp this up to vigorous aerobic activity, this can be between 75 to 150 minutes per week.

So, knowing that and taking the minimum (150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity), gives us about 21 minutes of exercise per day spread over one week. A pace of 3 miles per hour or even a little bit slower would put you at around 1 mile within a 21-minute walk. So it’s all good—right? Not exactly.

The issue lies in that a 3 mile per hour pace doesn’t necessarily constitute “moderate” aerobic activity, at least not for the majority of adults. Unless the route you walk on has a lot of hills, walking 3 miles per hour won’t put your heart rate where it needs to be to qualify for moderate activity. The easy fix for this is to do brisk walking for your daily walk. 

Let’s say you increase your pace to 3.5 miles per hour, which can be considered moderate aerobic activity. However, this means you’re finishing your exercise routine in less time, clocking in at about 17 minutes rather than 21. And since you’re finishing the mile faster, you’re not qualifying for the minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week.

A much better option would be to complete a brisk walk of 2 to 3 miles per day. Furthermore, the Physical Guidelines for Americans also recommends doing some strength training each week.

Moderate to intense resistance workouts will work your body in different ways than aerobic workouts that strengthen your heart and lungs. Keeping a well-rounded and fit body requires both of these types of exercises.

The Health Benefits of Daily Walking

While we’ve spent some time outlining why walking a mile per day may not meet the CDC exercise guidelines for adults, that doesn’t mean that it’s completely pointless.

Much of this will depend on your starting fitness level and the goals you want to achieve but walking a mile every day has a ton of benefits—even for those that may already be into fitness. Furthermore, these benefits range from mental aspects to physical ones.

It is important to keep in mind that many of the benefits of walking a mile per day aren’t necessarily unique to walking. As we’ve seen above, walking at a brisk pace is better.

However, you can also replace walking with other forms of aerobic exercise and physical activity. This could mean anything from swimming, sports, jump roping, or cycling. Any form of cardio will be good for your wellness, especially if it’s at a moderate-intensity or higher.

Male on the weight scale for check weight

Burning Calories and Losing Weight

Probably one of the most common reasons for wanting to workout is to lose weight—at least at the beginning. And since including aerobic activity in your routine is one of the best ways to go about this, it makes sense that walking a mile can bestow the same benefits.

One of the reasons for this weight loss is that aerobic activity (in this case, walking), helps to improve your body’s response to insulin. This, in turn, can help reduce the amount of belly fat you’re storing.

Walking on the daily also increases your metabolism, helping you burn more calories and helping to prevent muscle loss from occurring—something which becomes increasingly more important as we age.

Of course, the more you walk the better results you’ll see, but a dramatic change in lifestyle isn’t always necessary. For example, incorporating a walk into your daily schedule rather than driving somewhere will go a long way over the long term, even if the distance isn’t that far.

But if you’re down to ramp up the intensity, that’s always a good idea. Choosing routes that have a lot of hills is one way to keep your heart rate up while getting in good moderate aerobic activity over a shorter period of time.

Otherwise, walking further and generally increasing the tempo will go along way in burning more calories and helping you lose weight. For example, you can try an interval training walking routine.

This means walking at a high-intensity for a minute or two and then alternating to a moderate walk for another minute or two. This will increase the number of calories you burn after the workout since your heart rate will be higher than if you’d just done moderate activity.

Walking and Digestion

We’ve all had big meals and then been immediately ready to take a nap. But that’s actually the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Eating after a meal or in the morning helps to relieve constipation, indigestion, and gas pains.

This is because walking engages our abdominal and core muscles, which help to encourage movement in our digestive tract and move the process along. This is seen in how abdominal surgery patients are required to walk relatively soon after operation.

Furthermore, meals will increase our blood glucose levels and walking can help to reduce them because we use glucose for energy. Walking after a meal will not only improve our sugar levels but can also help when it comes to preventing heartburn and acid reflux. As we can see, including a walk after your meals is one of the best times to do so.

Walking and Your Heart

According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the world. If you’re looking to avoid cardiovascular disease and boost your immunity in general, walking every day is one way to do so.

Aerobic activity in particular is good at strengthening the heart. Athletes who participate in sports where endurance is necessary, have developed their hearts into stronger and more effective muscles. Depending on your activity levels and how much you train your heart, it can get weaker or stronger.

It goes without saying that a strong heart is necessary to avoid cardiovascular disease.And the heart is particularly sensitive to even small changes over a long period of time. Prescribing even moderate amounts of walking is seen as playing a key role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases—and it’s not even necessary to do a lot of walking.

Some studies have shown that walking daily can help to reduce blood pressure by as much as 11 points while also reducing the risk of strokes by anywhere from 20% to 40%. Another study found that those who walked enough to meet exercise guidelines had an overall 30% less chance to develop cardiovascular diseases.

If you want to maximize these benefits, it is of course better to up the ante a little bit. For example, a moderate walk for 30 minutes per day 5 days a week is one of the best places to start for maximum benefits. Longer walks are also key.

If you want to really make sure you’re not leaving any benefits on the table, try including an hour-long walk into your schedule at least twice a week. You may not see benefits immediately, but it will pay off when it comes to your heart’s health.

Visual concept of immune system and defense

Walking and the Immune System

But walking regularly is useful for more than just chronic diseases like heart disease. Studies have shown that walking can improve immunity, with dramatic results in some populations.

Your immune system is an extremely complex part of your body that is difficult to pin down when it comes to saying what works and what doesn’t. However, it’s been shown that high-intensity walking can improve immune functioning in adults with rheumatoid arthritis.

Furthermore, patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have also seen a lot of success with regular walking.For these patients, walking has reduced risks of mortality and morbidity. This exemplifies how walking can be a good way to promote general health and even increase longevity for people.

It has been shown in studies that adults between the ages of 70 and 90 who went outside to walk and were physically active had a much higher chance of living longer than those who didn’t. The benefits of this are two-fold, since staying physically active can also help to keep you closer to loved ones, which also helps your longevity.

Walking to a Good Night’s Rest

To complete the trifecta of a healthy lifestyle, the fundamentals are exercise, food, and rest. Walking daily can help with not only the exercise side of things but also when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.

The obvious connection is that spending more energy throughout the day will make you more tired, resulting in better sleep. Some studies have even drawn connections between the effects of sleeping pills and the effects of physical exertion throughout the day.

Walking a mile per day, while not dramatically exhaustive, can push you towards getting better sleep at night and falling asleep faster. And since you’ll be using your muscles throughout the day during your walks, they’ll also need time to rest and develop to be stronger and larger. But that’s not all when it comes to walking and resting.

Exercise—whether it’s walking or something else—boosts the production of melatonin in your body. Walking will also increase your body temperature, and as it cools your body will be more inclined to sleep. Both of these aspects will help you in both falling asleep and staying asleep.

Healthier Joints and Healthier Feet

Although placing more stress on your joints may not sound like a good idea for alleviating joint pain, that’s exactly the case when it comes to walking.The reason for this comes down to the increase of blood flow to tense areas that comes with walking.

An increase of motion and mobility due to walking, and any exercise for that matter, can help in terms of strengthening the muscles around the joints. And this doesn’t even have to go as far as one mile per day.

Research has even shown that walking for 10 minutes every day for older adults can help to mitigate the risks of developing disability and arthritis pain. Other studies have corroborated a link between walking and better mobility—especially when it comes to the lower body.

And speaking of the lower body, the feet go hand-in-hand (or foot-in-foot) with the development of mobility through walking. The feet are, after all, the stars of the show—not to mention the foundation of your body.

While flat feet or misaligned feet should be taken to a physical therapist before rigorous walking happens, regularly walking can help to prevent these things. This is because regular walking helps to develop stronger bones and better balance over the long term, and this will help stave off potential issues down the road…pun intended.

Boosting Your Mood

At this point, most of us know that working out is a good way to boost your mood. But it’s not necessary to exert yourself very hard to get similar benefits.

Research has shown that making walking a daily habit can even modify your nervous system enough that it will decrease chances of anger and hostility occurring. This is effect is compounded if you opt to go for a walk outside, rather than a treadmill.

For one, you’ll be getting Vitamin D, which is good for your immune system and good for your mood. Even if you’re going outside during the colder months, this can aid in lessening the effects of seasonal depression in people. Not to mention that fresh air is terrific for mental health as well.

If you want to get even more out of your walks, go with someone you enjoy being around. Or, if you don’t get much alone time throughout the day, walks can be a good form of active meditation. Not only will this keep your mind clear, but it’ll also improve your mood and help you stick to your fitness goals over the long term.

Side view of a casual happy man relaxing on a hammock in the beach on holidays

Mental Health and Stress

Following from the point above, going for walks is also a great way to keep your general mental health and stress levels in check. Polls show that 8 out 10 American adults are dealing with some sort of stress in their lives, and long-term stress can manifest itself in physical and mental problems later on.

The stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol have been shown to be reduced after taking a walk, and just like with boosting your mood, these effects are heightened if you take the walk outside in nature.

Walking can also be a good idea if you’re looking for a boost in creativity. Studies have shown that we become more creative when we’re up and moving around rather than sitting still. If you’ve got a creative task ahead of you, or you’re stuck in a rut, a walk might be just the thing you need.

Reaching Your Goals Through Habits

At the beginning we talked about how a mile per day isn’t very optimal for getting the full benefits of a healthy lifestyle. But the important aspect of “walking one mile per day” is the “per day” part, rather than the “walking” part.

Building a habit that you do every single day no matter what is a great way to build a new lifestyle.

One common pitfall of setting goals is making them too difficult to achieve. Sure—you might be able to transform your entire lifestyle from one day to the next, but what’s the longevity of that transformation? Doing something simple from day to day, no matter what and no matter how easy it may seem, is the foundation for setting larger goals and implementing more dramatic changes.

Taking a walk for a mile per day might seem like just one small step in the right direction, but it can springboard you much further than your initial goals might’ve ever imagined.