Is It Better to Walk Fast or Far? A Sports Cardiologist Weighs In

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If you're someone who's dedicated to your daily walks, it's very likely that your time on your feet looks different every day. Sometimes, you have an hour to spare strolling leisurely around your neighborhood listening to podcasts; other times, it's all you can do to squeeze in a 10-minute power walk between Zoom meetings. No matter how long you have to get up and shake out your legs, go ahead and pat yourself on the back, because walking offers some serious benefits for both your mental and physical health. However, if you are wondering "Is it better to walk fast or walk longer?," consider your curiosity quelled. We asked a sports cardiologist whether speed or mileage matters more when it comes to putting one foot in front of the other.

According to John Higgins, MD, a sports cardiologist with McGovern Medical School at the UT Health Science Center at Houston, power walking and taking the scenic route both come with their fair share of benefits. Below, he walks you through why each type of exercise is great for your health, and how to balance both week after week so you can make the most of your precious free time.

The benefits of short, fast walks

Let's say you're juggling a lot. Maybe you're carting your kids to various activities, chasing a deadline at work, or just trying to squeeze in a quick workout before enjoying some much-needed Netflix watching. If any of this is the case, Dr. Higgins says a walk in the express lane is for you. "Speed gets you more bang for the buck if you have limited time to exercise. About 15 minutes of high intensity [walking] a day equals about 30 minutes moderate intensity," he says. This ticks off The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) daily exercise recommendation of 30 minutes of movement at a moderate intensity. This effort of exercise gives you all the benefits of aerobic activity. That is, it strengthens your heart and lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease, improves cognitive functionactivates your immune system, and even improves your mood.

Long story short: A lot can happen in 15 minutes. Just make sure you're not going so fast that you wind up hurting yourself. Dr. Higgins says to keep in mind that this type of exercise comes with a higher risk of injury—so do all the necessary self care (like stretching, mobility work, and strength training) to make sure you have many walk ahead of you in the future.

The benefits of longer, more leisurely walks

If you’ve got room on your calendar, feel free to take a long, slow walk instead. Dr. Higgins says that you'll experience many of the same heart health benefits, but you'll also lower your risk of injury and build your endurance. Over time, your body will adapt to covering longer distances and you'll be able to press the gas pedal so you can combine both distance and speed.

Plus, you may find that these meandering miles are more of a mental time-out for you than something on the shorter side. Remember: Working out for your mental health is just (if not more) important than working out for your physical body.

The verdict

Mix and match! "I recommend doing at least one high-intensity workout per week, or every other week," says Dr. Higgins. "On the rest of the days, do your moderate workouts—like jogging, biking, or swimming," he says. So if you're wondering what kind of walk you should add to the docket today, do some introspection and decide if you want to stop and smell the roses or break a sweat. (You'll be reaping the heart-healthy rewards no matter what.) And, if you're wondering what shoes to wear when you embark, check out these podiatrist recommended walking shoes.

To make sure your legs are ready for the long (or short) haul, strengthen them with this 12-minute, lower-body workout:

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