6 Common Walking Myths, Busted

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
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6 Common Walking Myths, Busted

Walking tops the list for the most popular physical activities with more than 145 million adults (and counting) lacing up their sneakers regularly; it’s also one of the easiest ways to get your heart rate up.

However, when it comes to exercise, walking doesn’t always get the respect it deserves — and it’s time that changed. Before buying into the idea walking isn’t a worthwhile workout, learn the truth behind these six common walking myths.

There is a great feeling of accomplishment when your fitness tracker buzzes to signal you hit 10,000 steps. But Carol Ewing Garber, PhD, a professor of movement sciences at Columbia University, believes it might be an arbitrary target.

Yes, there are studies that show walking 10,000 steps per day is associated with lower blood pressure and improved glucose tolerance but the idea of walking the equivalent of five miles per day could feel overwhelming to new exercisers.

“[Walking 10,000 steps] will result in health benefits,” Garber says. “But it should be noted that … there is benefit even with small amounts of walking and the benefits increase with the more steps you walk each day.”

Garber suggests aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week instead of setting a step count goal.

If you want to count steps, consider this: Walking an additional 2,000 steps per day — even if your current step count is minimal — helps lower body mass index and boost insulin sensitivity, according to research published in the journal BMJ.

Leslie Sansone, fitness expert and creator of Walk at Home Workouts is adamant: “Walking works for weight loss!”

A slow stroll around the block isn’t going to move the needle on the scale (although it does burn more calories than binge watching legal dramas). To lose weight with a walking workout, Sansone suggests high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.

Picking up the pace — without breaking into a run — at regular intervals during your walk has a major impact on weight loss.

In one small study, researchers at the University of Virginia found overweight women who logged three, 30-minute, high-intensity walks and two moderately paced walks per week for 12 weeks lost six times more belly fat than women who went for a slow stroll five days per week. A second study found varying speed burned up to 20% more calories than maintaining the same pace.

Incorporating HIIT into your walking workout is simple, according to Sansone. After a 5-minute warmup walk at a slow pace, walk at a brisk pace for 30 seconds and then a regular pace for 4 minutes. Repeat the interval four times. End with a 5-minute cooldown walk.

“Walkers have so many choices to get fit and stay fit for life,” Sansone says.

Walking can be a “gateway exercise” that helps new exercisers improve their cardiovascular fitness and stamina to transition to running but not all walkers want to run — and that’s OK.

“Walking is a good exercise for everyone,” Garber says.

A study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology found rates of hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes were lower for regular walkers than runners.

While a walk around the block is a good start, maximizing the benefits of a walking workout requires logging sufficient time in your sneakers. Garber suggests focusing on distance, duration or calorie expenditure (all viewable on your fitness tracker) noting it’s the amount of exercise that counts — for both walkers and runners.

“If you start fitness walking today, you will instantly feel better and know you’re doing something good for your body, mind and soul,” Sansone says.

A brisk walk is great for reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, building bone strength and lowering the risk of diseases ranging from heart disease and diabetes to certain cancers. Picking up the pace can also help you burn more calories. Walking 10,000 steps at a pace of 4 miles per hour burned 153 calories more than walking the equivalent distance at 2 miles per hour, according to one study. But a need for speed is not essential for a solid walking workout.

“Walking hills is a fantastic substitution [to a brisk walk],” says Matt Minard, certified strength and conditioning specialist and physical therapist at Carolinas Rehabilitation.

Minard notes that each 1% increase in the incline grade is equivalent to 1 mile per hour of energy burned. “A jogger moving at a pace of 5 miles per hour on flat terrain burns roughly the same amount of calories as someone walking 3 miles per hour on a 3% incline grade.”

Moreover, walking longer distances might also be more beneficial than a brisk walk. A study published in Obesity Research found obese walkers burned more calories walking at 2 miles per hour than moving at twice that speed.

You might want to think twice before slipping on a pair of ankle weights, advises Minard. “The further away weight is from our center of mass (around the core), the more torque and stress it creates,” he explains. “[While] bones, joints and cartilage respond to loading and stress by becoming stronger, it can also lead to injuries.”

Walking with weights “can change your gait, increasing the likelihood of shin splints or other injuries,” adds Jessica Schwartz, certified strength and conditioning specialist, physical therapist and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association.

What’s more, studies looking at the effectiveness of ankle and wrist weights found the additional weight had no impact on body mass index. Even wearing a weighted vest, which keeps the weight closer to your center of mass, puts stress on the knees, Minard warns.

Don’t overlook the benefits of a leisurely stroll. Walking offers significant mental health benefits ranging from a decreased risk of depression and reduced anxiety to lower rates of cognitive decline — regardless of your distance or speed. Research shows that even a single walk is associated with improvements in mood.

Instead of feeling guilty for taking a walk without measuring your heart rate, tracking your step count or focusing on burning calories, enjoy the moment.

“The mental health benefits of walking are so important,” Schwartz says. “Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to be intentional about doing something for ourselves and taking a walk is one of the most accessible things you can do to reduce stress and practice self-care.”

Originally published March 2018, updated with additional reporting

To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity.

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.


59 responses to “6 Common Walking Myths, Busted”

  1. Avatar Ozzo says:

    So where’s the heads up on the DATA BREACH ??

    • Avatar Lindum says:

      Where’s an article on the data breach?

      How do we change passwords on MFP?

      • Avatar MyFitnessPal says:

        Privacy is important to our community, and we take the protection of your information seriously. We’ve assembled an FAQ on our website and included a form where you can request more information. Check it out here: https://content.myfitnesspal.com/security-information/FAQ.html

        • Avatar Lindum says:

          Privacy is important- but not important enough to either:
          a) answer my question with more than cut n paste, probably done by a bot;
          b) not important enough to put the money and resource in place to have functioning security.

          • Avatar Cynthia says:

            Loosen up! I received an email about it. It happens. Not the last time something will be breached!

          • Avatar Lindum says:

            Their security is terrible because they don’t put the money into it. It was happening for how many weeks before they discovered it?

          • Avatar Adam M says:

            The world may never know. But internet trolling doesn’t do anything about it.

          • Avatar Jump says:

            They gave a link. If you can’t click on a link, you might have bigger problems than a data breach.

          • Avatar Lindum says:

            Initially they didn’t. They have since I complained.

          • Avatar Adam M says:

            I got a notification the day it happened. Not sure why you are patting yourself on the back for complaining AFTER everybody else already knew about it and had a way to reset their password.

          • Avatar Lindum says:

            If you got a notification the day after it happened – well done – but you work for the company? The company took almost a week to tell the rest of us.

            Under Armour admitted that some the exposed passwords were only hashed using a notoriously weak function called SHA-1, which has had known flaws for a decade and was further discredited by research findings last year.

          • Avatar David Claude Warlick says:

            Are you establishing internet findings that a law firm can use as “proof” that some function was weak? Please in your wisdom go forward, and tell all of us the well-known functions that are strong and reliable today? We can then use these functions with no worries of hacking or lawsuits. You know, tell us today’s best practices, not yesterday’s bad practices.

          • Avatar Jump says:

            Ah, gotcha. My apologies for the snark, in that case! It was uncalled for.

    • Avatar Adam says:

      It’s in your inbox.

  2. Avatar Kay Lynne says:

    Thanks for this. The only exercise I get, outside a heated pool, is walking. I like knowing that it’s truly healthy and ways to to make it more beneficial. A great help!

  3. Avatar Alan59 says:

    The website will not let me add food or exercise to my Diary ?

  4. Avatar elysummers says:

    Walking is better than nothing. I notice if I don’t walk my weight loss stalls. I may not be HIITing it, but I’ve lost 37 pounds since the first of the year.

  5. Avatar Marilee Jikey says:

    I’m a confirmed walker. About eight years ago, I began walking around the block. I increased to 30 minutes then an hour. Now, since I’m retired I walk for up to two hours every day. It is very therapeutic for me. I don’t listen to music or podcasts when I walk. I love thinking my own thoughts, working through my life’s situations, and just giving thanks for being healthy and being able to walk. My average pace is 3.65 miles an hour. Walking is extremely beneficial for mind, body, and soul. xoxo

  6. Avatar NarpathWarpath says:

    I’ve lost 30 pounds in the past year and a half by walking and tracking calorie intake. I didn’t consciously alter my calorie intake, but I think being mindful of it has given me pause before eating a cookie or something. I generally hate exercise, but walking is something I love to do – I walk around listening to audio books.

  7. Avatar Grace Bowden says:

    I am a young 55. I have had 9 surgeries on my right foot/leg (compartment syndrome). I am so blessed to even be able to walk. I am 5’9″ tall and weigh 150 lbs. although I am not overweigh I love to walk and as I am getting more seasoned, I find that walking is very therapeutic. I like Marilee love to walk without any audio assistance. Some of you may laugh and that’s okay, but I say, ” okay, Jesus are You ready for a walk?” Of course He always says yes, and I love the freedom of the outdoors and everything to just take in. I walk 4 days a week/ average 8-10 miles per walk, with different intensity intervals, then the other days, light weight lifting. Keep walking, God blessed us with two legs and feet for a reason, I encourage you next time you go for a walk, invite Jesus to go with you and you will be amazed at what He has to say and show you.
    God Bless you all.

  8. Avatar PqP says:

    How about a running Myth??….after maturity of our bodies, there is NO health related reason to run….One can get all the health benefits from walking and less of the negative pounding effects that running has on our spine,hips,knees,feet and ankles…..When I was 30, and after I had been a running athlete all my life, I twisted my knee, resulting in a swollen painful knee..After finding out that I had a torn meniscus..I laid off running….after 6 weeks of rehab , I asked my ortho when I can go back to running?..He said jokingly, “How soon do you want to see me again?”…..then seriously, he said…NO more running…then he explained the myth about running and health….43 yrs later..both knees great…no pain…and walking 12 miles/week….

    • Avatar David Claude Warlick says:

      Running is certainly an option in one’s 30s, 40s, and 50s. Some running can be done at shorter distances in one’s 60s. Intervals are fine in the 70s. You just have to run on grass, rubber, or springs (ie, in outdoor parks, on indoor or coated tracks, or on professional treadmills). A person who runs on concrete or asphalt can not sustain their habits for a lifetime.

  9. Avatar Jim Bean says:

    It’s better than nothing, but you will not build the muscle you need for long term fitness-weight loss. I have a friend who routinely walks 8 miles at a time, but he can’t do ten minutes of HIT without dying. What’s your definition of fit?

    • Avatar Adam M says:

      Get ankle and wrist weights and a weight vest, and voila! You’ve got muscle building. The only people not building muscle while walking are the ones not trying to.

  10. Avatar Bradley Weernink says:

    Walking is DEFINITELY a worthwhile way to exercise. I try to walk every day. I started walking when I downloaded Pokémon Go on my phone. I used to be very sedentary. I would get up in the morning, sit in front of my computer until I went to wok. Come home. Sit in front of my computer until I went to bed…..repeat. I now average 2-8 miles a day walking. Now, this is not non stop walking. I stop all the time to catch Pokémon’s. But I am off my butt and out of the house, moving, almost every day. And I can see and feel the benefits. I’ve lost 5-10 lbs. I used to get terrible leg cramps in the morning when I woke up. Those have gone ( I think that has to do with the fact that I stretch out my calf muscles when I come home from walking). I know that I’ve lost some belly fat because I have had to shorten my belt by 2 inches in order to keep my pants from falling off when I walk. I now really enjoy walking and I get upset when my work schedule doesn’t allow me to get out for at least a 30 min walk.

    • Avatar David Claude Warlick says:

      I hear you about that sitting in front of a computer, which I am doing now. Good for you for walking. In my experience, weight maintenance and/or loss happens best when one is getting more than 15,000 steps per day. You are sometimes getting 16,000 steps with your 8 miles.

  11. Avatar Lawton Segler says:

    Adding light dumbbells to a walk allows me to significantly increase my heart rate while walking. I Alternate between curles, punching motions, and something similar to a fly. Gradually worked my way up to 40 reps/steps each with 40 steps of rest in between. I’m a 180lb man, and 5lb dumbbells are enough to keep my heart rate up where I need it. I have problems with my knees and feet, so running doesn’t work for me. I’m sure it looks weird, but it’s very effective.

    Doing this indoors on the treadmill allows me to adjust the incline so I can achieve any heart rate I want. Also, get a heart rate monitor! You’ll find lots of activities that raise your heart rate and burn tons of calories in a short period.

    • Avatar David Claude Warlick says:

      Your program sounds great. I would not advise lifts, as those would raise your center of mass and perhaps cause you to trip on a moving treadmill. But what you recommend — curls, punches, extensions — would indeed raise your BPM.

  12. Avatar Alan says:

    Retired at 66 I continue to walk as I always have which has helped control my weight (I have lived my life 20-30 lbs heavy) But now I walk in the mountains of the tropics of Central America where I live listening to lectures and navigating hills that go to 50% grade to max out my heart rate, no need to run. 5K is my daily goal at a minimum.

    • Avatar David Claude Warlick says:

      Are you sure about that 50% grade? Isn’t your nose almost touching the ground when going up? Aren’t you destroying your knees when using them as brakes for going down these hills? Railroad trains can only do about 3% grade, which is why antique rail lines make such wonderful converted walking trails. I’d be careful about your 50% hills, and it would be insanity to run them.

  13. Avatar Robert Gil Black Jr. says:

    I have been using MyFitnessPal for several years but just to hold my weight. In January, my Employer held a “Biggest Loser” partners contest. I reduced my caloric intake my 40% (About 1500 calories a day), took a daily fiber supplement, and added walking to my regimen, I also started drinking much more water, basically drink when feel hungry and wait 30 minutes, if still hungry eat a snack or meal. I lost 54 pounds in 3.5 months. I am pretty sure that the walking was the biggest contributor to my weight loss. Like elysummers said, the days I didn’t walk, my weight loss stalled. Went for a longer walk the next few days and it continued again. And I didn’t know about the HIIT stuff, but I was doing it that way, speeding up and slowing down periodically. My goal was 6,000 steps daily, but more important, I made sure I put in at least 120 minutes a week. Still loosing, I still am about 35 pounds over weight, so the journey continues.

  14. When I first began my journey, I really got into running. At 41 I was able to run for longer distances than ever in my life. It felt great! Except… it didn’t (feel) great. It hit me one day that – oh yeah, I’m 41, and I used to weigh 300 lbs. Running hurts! I’m (personally) not in a race with anyone and there’s no reason to be in pain all the time. So now I settle for about a 4 MPH walking pace and I just walk. I walk from 3 – 8 miles at a time. I’m still a little stiff after my longer walks, but I’m not in pain.

    • Avatar David Claude Warlick says:

      Hey man, walking at a 4 MPH pace for 8 miles is outstanding. I can walk that pace for 5 miles, but then I need a nap.

  15. Avatar Strider Moore says:

    First thing in the morning and I’m dealing with this. Your still note is biased and wrong. Be more honest. First. Walking 10k is great for anyone, and yes it’s an arbiter number so why not tell people to keep walking more. Start with 10k get to 20, or even 50k. Also walking can’t out burn a bad diet, but if your walking 40k like I do every day that’s burning 1000 to 2000 calories, so yes you will loose so much weight and finally, running is overrated. If I walk 40k steps a day it’s easier then running 40k steps a day. All I’m missing out on is fraying my lungs, but I’m all seriousness I burn the same, even if it be over a slightly shorter time. Hit burns 240-500 calories over the course of more time but not by much and you waist more energy in my mind. Thanks.

    • Avatar David Claude Warlick says:

      Can you share an image of your fitness watch that shows you consistently getting 50,000 steps per day? That would be a very well trained athlete who could maintain that schedule. Personally, I hit 50,000 steps only about once per year, on days that I do nothing but walk, rest, and eat for the entire day. I can’t do that mileage for two days in a row, much less for everyday of my life. Nor could I do 50,000 steps on wet beach sand as you are demonstrating (blister alert).

  16. Avatar tennvol says:

    I think it’s important for people to realize that, for the same distance, walking burns the same calories as running.

    • Avatar David Claude Warlick says:

      Your statement is not true. Physics (I’m an accountant, not a scientist) would say the horizontal vectors are the same. But someone who is running must by definition have two feet off the ground at some time (that is, a run does not qualify as an Olympic “race walk”). Having two feet off the ground involves a vertical vector not seen in walking. Also, if someone is a member of Garmin Connect or other member sites, there are more “Intensity Minutes” with running than with walking. I get Intensity Minutes for walking at speeds of say 3.7 MPH or higher, and always with running.

  17. Avatar JEA says:

    Walking is my favorite one. But when I am at work, I have a peddler at my desk and use that too. Just to keep moving is so important. I have lost weight but more importantly, I feel better.

  18. Avatar Scott says:

    I always keep my “fit-bit” on and check it regularly during exercise. My walking pulse is just under 100 bpm. When I run it get up to 160. How high should it be for HIIT when I walk? I exceed 10,000 3 days each week and come close on the others.

  19. Avatar Robin Graff says:

    I’ve lost 35 pounds this year. I have drop foot so I can’t run or even walk very fast- my walking is not really a ‘workout’. I started walking 10000 steps a day by just getting up and walking around more during the day. I got in the habit of always walking 30 minutes at lunch- I parked far away everywhere I went, sometimes I even jogged in place in by the side of the bed if I hadn’t finished my steps! Lol! I added some home workouts with heavy free weights two times a week to my routine, added riding a few times a week on my spin bike at home. Gradually I worked up to 12,500 steps a day, 2-3 days of orange theory fitness classes, and 2 days of 1 hour spin. Today I still get those steps every day- sometimes I get 20,000 now!
    I feel like the walking- just the increased movement constantly through the day is what really helped me lose the weight- I don’t think 3 workouts a week and then sitting around would have done it- walking is a great starting place and the increased activity is a must for losing weight.

  20. Avatar Skip says:

    I have been doing a 4 mile power walk in 1 hour for a good while, I really started sticking to every other day after my heart attack in November of 2017. After the heart attack I gained a lot of weight, I began walking again, making it consistent along with changing my diet and the weight just came off. I am 65y/o, 6′ 3″, 191lbs which fluctuates in a close range. Please believe walking worker in so many ways, no more cholesterol medication.

  21. Avatar kineticarl says:

    I must be daft, but the 3 myths are what, exactly?

  22. Avatar Bunny says:

    I always thought walking as exercise was a waste of time. My doctor said to walk for an hour. I told her if I am going to walk for an hour I can do p90x for an hour, or something more intense. It took me a year to listen to her, but I found walking does work. I walk for strenuous exercise six days a week for 30 mins each day and make sure i get my 10,000 steps all seven days, and do my 250 hourly steps thirteen hours a day. I feel so much better and have lost seven pounds in five weeks. I am now a believer in walking, for sure. I also combine this with the 16/8 fasting routine every day.

  23. Avatar CBear says:

    Try reading the CONCLUSION of the study:
    CONCLUSIONS: Equivalent energy expenditures by moderate (walking) and vigorous (running) exercise produced similar risk reductions for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and possibly CHD.

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