Walking for health

Walking is simple, free and one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and become healthier.

It's underrated as a form of exercise but walking is ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels who want to be more active.

Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.

Use this guide to increase the amount of walking you do every week and maximise the health benefits.

Before you start

A pair of shoes is all the equipment you really need. Any shoes or trainers that are comfortable, provide adequate support and don't cause blisters will do.

What a 60kg person burns in 30 minutes

  • strolling (2mph): 75 calories
  • walking (3mph): 99 calories
  • fast walking (4mph): 150 calories

Source: At least five a week, Department of Health, 2004

Wear loose-fitting clothing that allows you to move freely. Choose thin layers rather than heavy, chunky clothing.

If you’re walking to work, you can just wear your usual work clothes with a comfy pair of shoes.

For long walks, you may want to take some water, healthy snacks, a spare top, sunscreen and a sunhat in a small backpack.

If you start taking regular, longer walks, you may want to invest in a waterproof jacket and some walking boots for more challenging routes.

Starting out

Start slowly and try to build your walking regime gradually. To get the health benefits from walking, it needs to be of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. In other words, it needs to be faster than a stroll.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you're walking fast enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell is that you'll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favourite song.

Try to walk 10,000 steps a day. Most of us walk between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day anyway, so reaching 10,000 isn't as daunting as it might sound.

If, to begin with, you can only walk fast for a couple of minutes, that's fine. Don't overdo it on your first day.

You can break up your activity into 10-minute chunks, as long as you're doing your activity at a moderate intensity.

Begin every walk slowly and gradually increase your pace. After a few minutes, if you’re ready, try walking a little faster. 

Towards the end of your walk, gradually slow down your pace to cool down. Finish off with a few gentle stretches, which will help improve your flexibility.

From walking to the shops or part of your journey to work, to walking the dog and organised group walks, try to make every step count.

Staying motivated

Make it a habit
The easiest way to walk more is to make walking a habit. Think of ways to include walking into your daily routine. Examples include: 

  • Walk part of your journey to work.
  • Walk to the shops.
  • Use the stairs instead of the lift.
  • Leave the car behind for short journeys.
  • Walk the kids to school.
  • Do a regular walk with a friend. 
  • Go for a stroll with family or friends after dinner.

If you live in a city, Walkit has an interactive walk planner to help you find the best walking route. Each suggested route includes your journey time, calorie burn, step count and carbon saving.

Mix it up
Add variety to your walks. You don’t have to travel to the countryside to find a rewarding walk. Towns and cities offer interesting walks including parks, heritage trails, canal towpaths, riverside paths, commons, woodlands, heaths and nature reserves. For ideas for inspiring walks, see Walk England. For wheelchair users and parents with buggies, visit Walks with wheelchairs.

Join a walking group
Walking in a group is a great way to start walking, make new friends and stay motivated. Walking for Health’s Walk Finder allows you to search for organised walks near you. Many of the walks are aimed at people who do little or no exercise, but who would like to become more active. Ramblers organises group walks for everyone, including previously inactive people, people with a specific health condition and people with wheelchairs.

Get your boots on
Ramblers promotes walking for health, leisure and as a means for getting around to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, in towns and cities as well as in the countryside. Its website has details of many locally organised walking groups, for all levels of fitness.

Set yourself a goal
You can walk 1,000 steps in around 10 minutes.  Pedometers are a fun way to keep track of your walking. Use a pedometer to work out your average daily steps and then start adding those extra steps. Find out how you can benefit from walking 10,000 steps on five or more days a week.



Page last reviewed: 30/06/2014

Next review due: 30/06/2016

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 150 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 16 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

dorotie said on 04 July 2014

6 weeks ago I had surgery to repair a ruptured achilles tendon. I am 55 and don' intend to start jogging but I would like to regain strength and stamina through walking. Has anyone else had a go at this and did it work?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

ariddleinthyme said on 14 March 2014

I am a 66 year old female. Some years ago, I lost 4 stone by going to Slimming World, which taught me a lot about healthy eating. Since then, however, I have gradually put on a stone and a half. The BMI chart on this site tells me that I should ideally lose 3 and a half stone!

I have never been someone who enjoys exercise for the sake of it but have started to walk more since I gave up my car and started using my Freedom Pass to travel!

To increase my exercise I should like to monitor the amount of walking which I do. Does anyone know where I can get a pedometer?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

jwp said on 07 October 2013

The problem with these guidelines is they are a "one size fits all"; A cardiologist told me forget what the experts tell you, listen to your body.
In my case I am 73 years of age, had a slight MI in 1992. After a general walk for 1 hour I feel good. If I do the moderate-intensity aerobic activity recommended by the Dept; of Health guidelines for 30 minutes I feel ill. The cardiologist said your body is saying ok to the walking. but no, no to the moderate-intensity aerobic activity. So listen to your body, not the Dept of health

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

User787264 said on 14 July 2013

Common sense has to prevail.

If you can't exercise at a particular level the guidelines SHOULD say exercise at a level that is safe for you,
Only you can monitor how you feel.

Stopping several times or many times is fine. Go further each week is a good idea no more than 10% will allow you body to adapt.

As for the quickly and easily losing 4 stone @ the recommended max or 1 kg a week it will still take (4 st x 14 lb = 56 lbs / 2.2) 25.5 weeks minimum.

A more comfortable rate is around a pound a week.

I dare not put a link to the NHS_Choices weight loss forum again or my comment is deleted as it is considered to be for personal gain LOL.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

woodysgirl said on 12 July 2013

Northernfox I have just discovered the fun of Geocaching it is like national/international treasure hunting it makes a unengaging walk somewhat more exciting for the kids, even the teenagers got enthused by it and before we knew it we hald completed a mile walk. with no grumbles!!!!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

damienc said on 06 March 2013

I find walking a really relaxing and easy way to maintain a decent level of fitness. Recently I have started using this free app called 'Moves' http://www.moves-app.com it enables me to count my steps and how far I have travelled in day. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to learn more about their everyday journeys.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

thejonwise said on 26 January 2013

Don't count steps, you'll go bonkers. Count paces, the way the old Roman soldiers used to. Every time you put your right foot down, that's a pace. Stick out a finger every time you reach 100 paces and when you've stuck out all ten digits you've walked a mile (or thereabouts; that's where the word mile comes from, the latin 'mille' = 1,000, in this case paces. It's how they measured their roads). It's a lot easier. I do two of those every morning and it takes 25 minutes. I've lost over three stone (14st down to 10st 12lb) in just over a year simply by doing that. I wish I'd started doing it 25 years ago!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

bernieb said on 26 September 2012

Buy yourself a peometer.they will measure how maqny steps you take and help to motivate you to walk more.
short 10 minute walks each day can be added to.
As your fitness impoves you will be able to walk further.
Look up on line to see where you can purchse one.
best of luck. Bernieb.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

jackie3 said on 20 July 2012

Hi, I started walking because I needed to lose weight and at first I could only walk at a snails pace and after only 100 yards I would need to stop for a drink and because I felt light headed and dizzy, but I kept it up, purposely never going too fast so that it became too much like hard work. 2yrs later and I have lost 4 and a half stone, I walk 6 miles a day and can keep up with any other walker. So I would say you are definitely not wasting you time if you can only do a little and can only walk slowly, every little helps, especially if you can make it regular. I am also quite lazy so one of my incentives was getting a dog, then I had to go out whatever the weather or excuse I had for not going!Good luck!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

AllanMarsden said on 18 July 2012

Can someone help me here. It says 1000 steps = 10 minutes, so 10000 steps (which the article says I need) = 100 minutes per day. Yet elsewhere it says I only need 150 minutes per week to be fit. Which is it?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

SEOhug said on 14 May 2012

Some great tips here.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

jimbeam1 said on 18 November 2011

Would I be correct in saying that 10,000 steps (for a man) would be about 3 miles? It doesen't say here anywhere.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Steven Shukor said on 09 September 2011

To BONZOSDOG and cudknot4:

The British Lung Foundation says: "Many people with COPD stop taking exercise because it makes them breathless. But not exercising makes things worse. You can't do yourself harm by over-exertion, because breathlessness will stop you. Try to walk, even if it's just around the house or up and down the garden.

"See if there are pulmonary rehabilitation classes in your area - these are individually tailored classes to help you increase your lung fitness, and can be very valuable. If there are no classes - join with your local Breathe Easy support group and campaign for pulmonary rehabilitation where you live."

Hope this helps.

Steven Shukor
Live Well editor

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

cudknot4 said on 12 August 2011

I too am in a smilar position to BONZOSDAG and there is no exercises put forward for people like us who simple can't exercise. as normal. why is this information not available?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

northernfox said on 11 August 2011

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have the kind of family pictured in your ad.....!

Sadly, most of us DON'T!

The 2.4 family depicted here bears NO relation to MY family - or to any family I know!

It's LA-LA-LAND to assume that everyone can get out and about with their smiling children to walk......

All our children are grown-up - and I'm disabled......

I'd LOVE to be able to walk - but I CAN'T!


Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

BONZOSDOG said on 11 August 2011

I suffer from Emphysema and really struggle to walk very far at all. I must admit to be basically lazy and have never been one for exercise, however, I need operations for various things, am overweight and the last op I had was very nearly my last. I stopped breathing 3 times and had to be revived and was then put into a coma for 3 weeks. I am never going to be achieve the speed of walking you suggest so am I wasting my time by attempting to do some walking. The last walk I did was quite short about half a mile, but I was forced to stop several times in order to catch my breath again. I have been told to lose weight otherwise no operation. My height is 5'7" and weight 104 kgs, can you tell me how to get rid of 4 stones, quickly and easily please?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Tools

Exercises for older people

Improve your strength, balance and flexibility with these step-by-step guides

Exercise for older people

A guide to pilates

All you need to know about pilates, including its health benefits, pilates and back pain, and how to choose a class

A guide to yoga

How to get started in yoga, including the health benefits, yoga styles for beginners and finding a yoga class

A guide to tai chi

All you need to know about tai chi, including health benefits, different styles and getting started

Media last reviewed: 11/03/2013

Next review due: 11/03/2015

Find the sport that's right for you

Link to What's Your Sport tool

Exercise: getting started

Step-by-step sport and exercise guides to help you get more active and stay motivated

Activity holidays

How to get fit and have fun on holiday, including ideas for activity breaks and tips on how to motivate kids

Health and fitness

Boost your health and fitness with fun and practical ideas to get active and improve your general health

Walk4Life

Get walking!

Change4Life has lots of simple ideas and tips to help you easily incorporate walking into your daily routine.