Fitness Tips

Here’s What Happens To Your Body When You Walk a Mile Every Day

Photo: Getty/Westend61
One common refrain from the last few years has been: "Do less and get more out of it." It just makes sense! We saw that sentiment in action when restorative fitness modalities began to climb in popularity. One key way? Walking. According to an MIT study conducted in 2020, more people went on leisurely strolls and power walks than they had before.

One of the first things that Steve Stonehouse, running and walking coach and director of education for STRIDE, tells me when we hop on the phone is that most people don't realize that walking is considered a weight-bearing exercise. Given that walking is usually grouped in the cardio category, this adds to the ever-growing list of serious benefits you get from it—yes, even for one mile a day.

"Walking is a weight-bearing exercise. Even if you're not holding weights or you've got ankle weights on, it's a weight-bearing exercise," says Stonehouse. "You're getting all of the cardio and respiratory benefits, but your muscles are getting benefits too because they're having to carry your weight around." Below, Stonehouse shares more benefits plus tips for how to how to up the challenge when you're ready.

The Benefits of Walking a Mile a Day

1. You help strengthen your muscles

While walking isn't the same as strength training, you still get some strength-building benefits from engaging muscles throughout your body as you walk. You'll engage all of your lower body muscles, plus your core and arms should also do some of the work if you're form is on point.

Speaking of form, Stonehouse says to keep your upper body in check when you walk if you have a sedentary job or lifestyle, since often you carry that rounded or tight posture into your movement later.

"Sometimes when people get tired, their arms move less. I want to really coach people to make sure that their arms are swinging, but I never want their arms kind of crossing the midline of their body," says Stonehouse.

2. You help boost bone health

Your bones respond to the movement you do, especially if that movement is weight-bearing–like walking a mile a day. According to the National Institute of Health, your bone tissue responds and grows stronger when you exercise. Prioritizing exercise, like walking a mile a day, can also help you prevent bone loss as you age.

3. You set a healthy routine

Walking can be a great way to get some me-time and fresh air. Aside from the physical benefits, walking gives you time to think, listen to music, a podcast, or catch up with a friend. There's also value in setting a goal and sticking to walking a mile a day since it builds consistency and routine.

"I think there's value in routines and the discipline that requires. Even aside from the physical benefits of going and walking a mile every day, I think there's value in just kind of being consistent with that routine," Stonehouse says.

4. You improve cardiorespiratory health

Walking for a mile or any distance gets your heart rate up, which is a major boost for your heart and cardiorespiratory health. Any time you move, your body has to "push blood and fluids and everything through your system, more than it would if you weren't walking," notes Stonehouse, which gives your bod and brain a boost.

The Benefits of Walking 3 Miles a Day

But what if you want to up the ante and log some extra miles on your walks? Good idea! A 3-mile walk is an ideal workout because it gives you just enough time to throw in some variety (intervals, anyone?) while still keeping your workout attainable and doable, according to Stonehouse.

You can make your workout simple and set the first mile as your warm-up mile, the second mile as your "working" mile, where you challenge yourself by taking a hill or maybe a different path, and the final mile can be your cool-down stretch. It's that simple, but also that effective. Here are some ideas for making your three mile walk (or any walk, really) even more challenging.

1. Take a route with hills

If you're exercising in a neighborhood and you can find an area with more hills or something other than a flat road, take your walk there to mix it up.

2. Challenge yourself with intervals

Walk slowly for one minute, quickly for one minute, and repeat during your second "working" mile.

3. Try 5-minute blocks

Push for one minute, and then do four minutes at an easy pace. Repeat the 5-minute blocks until you hit 3 miles or your timed goal.

4. Change up the scenery

Take your three miles out to a trail or hike for a challenge and an extra dose of calm.

Tips for Preventing Walking Injuries

One of the most common issues Stonehouse sees in the clients he coaches is pain and issues that result from overdoing exercise when you haven't been active. Keep in mind that even one mile is something you should do at your own pace, and work your way off if you've been sidelined from an injury, sickness, or some other event.

Finally, the shoes that you wear (here are some that are podiatrist approved) are also key since your feet need the proper support to carry you on your walks. Don't forget that you need to replace your sneakers about every 6 months, depending on how much you walk—if you're not sure, try this 10-second test to check.

Tips for Good Walking Form

To reap all of the body-loving benefits of exercise and to make sure you're using the correct muscles, you have to have good form. When your form gets wonky, injuries can creep up.

Two things that Stonehouse calls out for walkers: First, be mindful of the upper body (shoulders and arms). Next, pay attention to your heel strike.

1. Upper body form tips

"A lot of people sit at a desk throughout the day, so their shoulders and their upper body end up getting really tight. Sometimes their posture can kind of stay like that. They get out for a walk, their shoulders get tight, their arms don't swing as much," says Stonehouse. To counter that, he suggests keeping your arms a bit loose and letting them swing since that will help your leg motion. But also be mindful of crossing them too much or overstriding. "Make sure that the arms are swinging, but I never want the arms crossing the midline of the body," says Stonehouse.

2. Heel strike

You've probably heard the term heel strike applied to runners more than walkers, but according to Stonehouse, it's important for both groups to pay attention to. "A lot of times with runners. we're really trying to decrease as much of the heel strike as possible. Ideally for a runner, you want to get a mid-foot strike," says Stonehouse. For walkers, you want a "good heel strike on the outside of your heel. You're going to naturally roll over to your midfoot and then off on your big toe. So ideally you want to keep that heel strike, mid-foot, big toe," says Stonehouse.

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