Long-Distance Walking Is Accessible and Low-Intensity—and It’s Never Been More Popular

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For 25-year-old Sara Anfuso, walking goes beyond fitting in a quick workout. Throughout high school and college, she woke up at 5 or 6 a.m. to clock miles with her dad.

“I have a really close relationship with my dad, and he’s always been a big walker,” says Anfuso, a content creator based in Seattle. “Every morning, we’d go walking for about three miles. It wasn’t too long, but it was a way to get some exercise in the morning.”

Fast forward to today, and Anfuso’s walks are longer and her social media videos about “long-distance walking” have garnered thousands of views. In one, she details what she wears for a crisp 14-mile walk to get boba tea with friends in Seattle. Her content reflects a growing interest in long-distance walking as a form of low-intensity, steady-state cardio (LISS).

Experts In This Article

“Walking and the health benefits associated with it exploded during the pandemic,” says Jennifer Walsh, faculty advisor at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and founder of Walk With Walsh, which offers wellness walks for companies, schools, and beyond.

Here’s what to know about long-distance walking and why it’s emerging as a trend.

What is long-distance walking, anyway?

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for what defines a long-distance walk—our experts cited distances ranging from five to 50 miles.

“To me, it’s anything that feels long for the person involved,” says Rachel MacPherson, CPT, CSCS, a pain-free performance specialist at Garage Gym Reviews and a fitness journalist experienced in trend forecasting. “It has less to do with distance and more with time or perception of it.”

Some see long-distance walking as a way to push physical limits, but in a more accessible way than, say, long-distance running. Because it’s typically done outdoors, it also appeals to nature lovers.

“It's a way to connect with nature and do something to make yourself proud, without the more intense and potentially risky forms of exercise such as ultra-endurance marathons,” MacPherson says.

Organizations like Walking Space offer long-distance walking packages for enthusiasts, including a 25-mile walk in Minnesota that lasts three days and runs between $449 and $2,149 (this covers the costs of sleeping arrangements, like tents).

Meanwhile, luxury walking holidays are on the rise, with many boutique hotels attracting long-distance walkers interested in taking advantage of paths like the National Trails in England or the Dolomite Alps of Italy, reports Country Living UK

“This trend is part of a larger cultural shift and desire for balance and consistency in fitness routines and practical, manageable forms of exercise that people can easily integrate into their daily lives.” —Rachel MacPherson, CPT, CSCS

Why is long-distance walking popular?

Steady-state workouts like long-distance walking have made a comeback after several years of an emphasis on HIIT workouts and other intense forms of cardio. Between 2022 and 2023, low-impact training exercise increased by 176 percent, per a Mindbody + ClassPass report.

“Low-intensity workouts like long-distance walking and steady-state cardio are becoming increasingly popular because they're sustainable, require no special equipment or skills, and are good for heart health,” MacPherson says.

While some people may enjoy how quickly HIIT can be completed, it is not sustainable for everyone. Compared to people who did moderate intensity exercise, those who were assigned to HIIT were less likely to sustain the set level of intensity when unsupervised, per a September 2022 review published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

“Cultural shifts in fitness happen when people begin to feel the effects of something that’s not serving them,” MacPherson says. “After years of trying to force themselves to perform at peak levels only to ‘fall off the wagon’ because it's unsustainable, people will begin to recognize where there’s been an imbalance.”

Walking is more enjoyable to many people than high-intensity workouts, but still delivers a large number of health benefits. The risk of cancer, heart disease, and premature death decreases by approximately 10 percent for every 2,000 steps walked, per a November 2022 study in JAMA Internal Medicine. (In this research, the benefit peaked at 10,000 steps per day, so it’s okay if you’re not clocking 20-milers out of the gate.)

Meanwhile, walking just under 10,000 steps per day lowered the risk of dementia by 50 percent in a October 2022 study in JAMA Neurology.

“This trend is part of a larger cultural shift and desire for balance and consistency in fitness routines and practical, manageable forms of exercise that people can easily integrate into their daily lives,” MacPherson says.

Plus, more people are eager to exercise in nature, which long-distance walking lends itself to. Connecting with nature through physical activity was named a top fitness trend of 2024 by Vision Sports Club.

Moving in nature also comes with benefits: Walking outdoors led to better cognitive performance than walking indoors, a January 2023 study in Scientific Reports found.

“Humans evolved walking outdoors and it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution when we had the greatest migration indoors,” Walsh says. “Humans crave and need sensorial experiences for optimal health, which we receive from a simple walk outside.”

How to stay safe during a long-distance walk

With the unfortunately frequent media reports of attacks on those exercising outside (particularly women), safety is a concern top of mind for many considering long-distance walking.

The sheer number of miles clocked may mean it’s difficult to stay in a public or familiar place when you’re walking. Anfuso, who has taken self-defense training, says that she’s been harassed and catcalled on the street.

“I definitely carry pepper spray and a taser with me at all times,” Anfuso says. “Having confidence when you’re walking is also really important.”

Always let people know where you are, your planned route, and timeframe. Have a GPS with you and a compass if you'll be in out-of-service areas—and depending on the length of your walk, bring a first-aid kit, food, water, and provisions you’ll need for shelter and warmth on multi-day trips, MacPherson says.

Look for long-distance walking groups in your area so you don’t have to walk alone (for instance, both Anfuso and Walsh host community walks). If you do walk alone, stay aware and avoid wearing headphones or looking at your phone.

And of course, if you ever feel uncomfortable when you’re considering a certain route, trust your instincts and choose a different path.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
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  3. Del Pozo Cruz B, Ahmadi M, Naismith SL, Stamatakis E. Association of Daily Step Count and Intensity With Incident Dementia in 78 430 Adults Living in the UK. JAMA Neurol. 2022 Oct 1;79(10):1059-1063. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2022.2672. Erratum in: JAMA Neurol. 2022 Sep 9;: PMID: 36066874; PMCID: PMC9449869.
  4. Boere K, Lloyd K, Binsted G, Krigolson OE. Exercising is good for the brain but exercising outside is potentially better. Sci Rep. 2023 Jan 20;13(1):1140. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-26093-2. PMID: 36670116; PMCID: PMC9859790.

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