Walking Speed Beats Step-Count, According to Science


When it comes to improved health, your walking speed might be more important than the total duration of your workout. New research shows following an interval walking program that fluctuates between fast and slow speeds for up to 50 minutes per week is more beneficial for physical fitness than walking at peak oxygen capacity for 75 minutes per week.


Research published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings followed 679 older adults who walked at 70% of maximum aerobic capacity for 3 minutes followed by 40% of maximum aerobic capacity for 3 minutes over the course of 5 months. The program led to significant improvements in aerobic capacity and reduced the risk of diseases like high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

Lead researcher Shizue Masuki, PhD, of Shinshu University, notes that the advice to walk a certain number of steps, like 10,000 per day, doesn’t take walking speed into consideration, adding, “Moderately paced walking does not seem to be intense enough to increase peak aerobic capacity and improve health outcomes.”


A new study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism also shows health benefits are greater with interval training. Among sedentary older adults, researchers found interval walking on a treadmill for 50 minutes per week for 12 weeks led to significant improvements in both physical endurance and memory compared to those who walked at a moderate, steady pace.

Although the study focused on older adults, co-author Jennifer Heisz, PhD, an associate professor at McMaster University, notes that benefits would be similar for younger folks. “Exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a fertilizer for the brain that supports the growth, function and survival of brain cells. It increases more following [interval training] than moderate continuous training,” she explains.


Instead of focusing solely on the duration of your workouts, aim to add brisk walking intervals, power walking sets and maybe even run/walks into your routine more regularly. Masuki suggests wearing a heart rate monitor and varying your intensity. You can also pay attention to your perceived level of exertion: “It should feel somewhat hard to maintain the pace,” says Masuki.

To get started, Heisz suggests increasing your speed between light posts when walking outdoors or adding more hills to your regular route. Breaking up your daily routine into two shorter walks may make it easier to walk at a brisk pace while building your endurance to work up to 50 minutes of interval training per week.

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