Are you looking to stay in shape, lose weight, or build a healthy habit?
If so, then one of the best things you can do is to add more cardio to your daily routine.
Now, there are many options when it comes to cardio — running, swimming, biking, and cross-country skiing can all get your heart pumping and help you lose weight.
But what about walking?
Specifically, you might wonder:
“Is walking a cardio workout?”
While many people have incorporated running into their exercise routine, others might be looking for an alternative, such as brisk walking.
In this article, we are going to delve into the definition of a cardio workout, how walking can become a cardio workout, and how a cardio workout can help you build a healthy lifestyle.
What You'll Learn
Is Walking a Cardio Workout?
So, to answer the question of “is walking a cardio workout,” the short answer is it depends on how fast you’re walking. That’s why it’s important to know what is a cardio workout and how to maximize the results from each of your walks.
Let me explain…
A workout is deemed cardio exercise if it works the cardiovascular system, such as the heart. This is where the name comes from. Also called an aerobic exercise, cardio encompasses a few common exercise activities such as:
By its own definition, cardio workouts require oxygen. According to Harvard Medical School, regular aerobic exercise is critical for maintaining heart health as we age. Some of the benefits of aerobic exercise include improved athletic performance, better heart health, and a reduced risk of cardiac complications. Cardio workouts ensure that the circulatory system, heart, and lungs remain healthy.
One of the biggest differentiating factors between aerobic and anaerobic activity is the consumption of oxygen. In anaerobic activities such as weightlifting, the body exercises at maximum capacity using short, quick bursts of energy. These activities are performed for a short period of time. In contrast, aerobic activities take place for a prolonged period of time.
Furthermore, an extensive amount of research has been done showing the benefits of regular aerobic exercise. First, the American Heart Association has released statements and evidence showing that aerobic exercise helps to strengthen the heart, allowing it to pump blood more effectively throughout the body.
In addition, regular cardio workouts keep your blood pressure low. It lowers “bad” cholesterol (LDL) from the body while raising “good” cholesterol (HDL).
Specifically, medical professionals recommend that:
Individuals receive at least 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity at least three times per week.
Also, aerobic activity is beneficial because it can help you regulate your insulin levels while lowering your blood sugar levels. Your body requires carbohydrates to perform physical activity, including walking. One of the easiest carbohydrates to burn is sugar.
Therefore, regular cardio workouts will help you lower your blood sugar levels, allowing your body to regulate its insulin. One specific medical study of individuals with type 2 diabetes showed that the participants in the study improved their blood sugar levels and kept their weight under control.
These are only a few of the most important benefits of cardio workouts. Some of the other benefits include a reduction in chronic pain, improved sleep habits, and a stronger immune system. Clearly, a cardio workout is important. Now, you might still be wondering whether or not walking qualifies as a cardio workout. The answer is, yes! As long as you work at a certain speed. Casually walking down the hall does not qualify as a cardio workout; however, a brisk walk is cardio.
So, if you are walking at a speed of least 3 miles per hour, you are performing a cardio workout because you are working your heart and lungs.
Over time, the heart and lungs will get stronger with a workout routine that includes brisk walking. Therefore, you need to understand the basics of brisk walking and how it is different from other workouts as well as regular walking.
Why You Should Focus on Brisk Walking
As mentioned above, medical professionals recommend that you engage in moderate to vigorous aerobic activity at least three times per week for forty minutes at a time. Brisk walking qualifies as a moderate-intensity exercise. It is different from a regular walk in that the “tempo,” which is the number of steps per minute, is faster. In turn, the speed is also faster.
Now, how quickly you should be walking is dependent on a number of factors, such as your fitness level. There are a few measures that you can take to improve your average walking speed and get more out of your brisk walking workouts.
One medical study defined a “brisk walk” as taking about 100 steps per minute. This was for adults under the age of 60. While the exact speed of these individuals varied based on their stride length, most of the study participants clocked in around 3 miles per hour.
At the same time, if you already have a high level of fitness (or you run regularly), you might not find a walk of 3 miles per hour very challenging. Instead, you might want to consider walking at 4 miles per hour or even 4.5 miles per hour. As a side note, a walk of 3 miles per hour is a 20-minute mile while a walk of 4 miles per hour is a 15-minute mile. You should know that the CDC defines a walk at 2.5 MPH to be “moderate-intensity” while a walk is considered “brisk” at 3.5 miles per hour or more.
What is most important for you is that you are working your heart and lungs to an extensive degree regardless of your speed. The speed is going to vary from person to person. Therefore, you should focus on your exertion instead. In order for you to be exerting yourself, you need to be breathing harder than usual. As a good rule of thumb, you should still be able to speak in full sentences. If you cannot, your exercise might be considered “vigorous,” which is good if you can keep up this pace; however, you might not be able to continue for forty minutes. Therefore, think about finding a walking tempo where you can still speak in full sentences; however, you cannot sing.
If you are looking for a more precise definition, you need to be able to track your heart rate. Your maximum heart rate will vary by age. A good rule of thumb for a maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age in years. Therefore, the maximum heart rate of a 30-year-old will be around 190 beats per minute while the maximum heart rate of a 50-year-old will be around 170 beats per minute. The exact maximum heart rate will vary by fitness level as well.
An exercise is defined (by the American Heart Association) as being of moderate-intensity if it requires between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. Therefore, if you are 40 years of age, your maximum heart rate should be around 180. If your heart rate is between 90 beats per minute and 126 beats per minute, you are exercising at moderate intensity. If your heart rate is under 90 beats per minute, you need to walk faster. If your heart rate is over 126 beats per minute, your activity level is “vigorous.”
Now, you have a few good ways to determine whether or not your brisk walk is strong enough to qualify as a cardio workout. You should be able to speak in full sentences, yet not sing. Your heart rate should be between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, which you can calculate using your age. Finally, how can you turn your walks into a cardio workout?
How To Turn Your Walks Into a Cardio Workout
So, is walking cardio? You can turn walking into a cardio workout with a few simple steps. These include:
First, figure out where your baseline fitness level is located. If you haven’t performed any vigorous physical activity in years, you likely won’t be able to walk at 4 miles per hour for an hour straight. On the other hand, if you already have an exercise routine and are looking to add more cardio, you might be able to start at a higher speed.
Therefore, you need to set a baseline. If you aren’t active, start by walking for 20 minutes every other day. Then, you can gradually increase the length of your workouts to reach the recommended weekly cardio activity of medical professionals.
When you go for your walks, set either a distance or a time. You cannot set both or you might push your body too hard. If you walk regularly, the speed will follow. Therefore, either say “I’m going to walk 2 miles four times per week” or “I am going to walk for 30 minutes for times per week”
Next, as you walk briskly, check your heart rate. You need to know your heart rate to know if you are working hard enough. You can do these either with a heart rate monitor or a pulse check. If you are checking your pulse, find it on either your wrist or your neck. Count the number of beats you feel in 10 seconds and multiply this number of six. Remember that you need to hit a target heart rate of between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for your brisk walk to qualify as moderate intensity.
Finally, you need to find ways to stay motivated. Some of the best ways that you can stay motivated to adhere to your brisk walk routine include:
These are a few of the most important steps that you need to take in order to turn your brisk walk into a regular cardio workout. Most importantly, everyone has to start somewhere. If you want to keep your heart and lungs healthy, this journey will begin with a single step.
Final Thoughts on the Cardio Effects of Walking
If you are asking, “is walking cardio,” the answer is yes, but you have to put a little extra effort into your daily walks.
It’s important for you to take care of your overall health. This includes your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. While you might not think that swimming, biking, or running are for you, everyone has to walk. Therefore, think about incorporating brisk walks into your exercise routine. Even walking for around thirty minutes per day at a brisk pace can do wonders for your overall health.
And if you want to use your daily walks to lose weight, then I recommend checking out this step-by-step blog post on how to start a walking exercise routine.