You Asked: As a Beginner, How Often (and How Far) Should I Walk?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Walking is an excellent way to start getting fit because it costs little to nothing and can be done almost anywhere and by just about anyone. (Learn more about the health and fitness benefits of walking.) So how do you begin with a walking program? Here are a few do's and don'ts to get you started.

DON'T focus too much on speed or distance. When you're new to walking, it doesn't matter how far or how fast you go. Instead, focus on slowly building up your time (starting with as little as 5-10 minutes at first) and walking at a comfortable pace for you. Greater speeds and distances will come as you get fitter!

DO ease into walking. Remember to warm up at a slower pace and work up to longer distances gradually.

DO wear proper footwear. A supportive shoe will be comfortable and go the distance with you. (Learn how to pick the best walking shoe.)

DON'T get caught up with long workouts. Walking can be broken up into several mini sessions throughout the day as you accumulate your time. You don't have to walk for an hour, for example, to get the benefits of this form of exercise.
When starting a walking plan—or any cardio exercise plan, the acronym FIT (Frequency, Intensity, Time) will help you get started on the right foot. Here's what it all means and how you can apply it to your walks.

Frequency: How many days per week should you walk?

Aim for a minimum of 3 walking days per week, and gradually work your way up to 5 or 6 days per week as you get fitter. For most people, walking can be done almost every day of the week because it's low-impact and not as intense as other fitness programs. But don't forget the importance of rest and recovery. Give yourself at least 1-2 days off each week.

Intensity: How fast (or intensely) should you walk?

Even leisurely walking has health benefits. However, exercising in an aerobic range (calculate your target heart rate to determine your ideal workout intensity) has greater weight-loss and fitness benefits. The actual speed you walk doesn't matter as much as your intensity does. If you can comfortably answer a question during exercise, while still feeling like you’re exerting yourself and breathing a little heavier, you’re usually working at the right intensity. Learn more about calculating and measuring exercise intensity here. Remember: If you can't reach your target heart rate with walking alone, then add intensity by increasing speed or incline.

Time: How long should you walk?

Ideally, work your way up to walking for at least 20 minutes per session. Eventually, you may be able to walk longer (up to an hour).  The longer you walk past 20 minutes, the more fat you are burning, so that can be a good motivator to keep pushing yourself as you get fitter. But remember: Time can be cumulative: You don't have to do 20-60 minutes in a single walking session. You can do several 10 minute mini workouts each day and add them up. (For those of you wondering how many steps you have to take to walk a full mile, we put together this post for you.)

Need more ideas to get started? Check out these walking workout plans!
Interval Walking Workouts for All Levels
A 12-Week Walking Plan for Beginners
Map Your Walk to Discover Your Pace & Distance
Training Plan: Walk a 5K
30-Minute Indoor Walking Workout

What's your best advice for beginner walkers?

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KHALIA2 12/21/2019
I am offended,almost everything I say you edit! I don't really appreciate this! Report
KHALIA2 12/2/2019
Very informative! Thanks! Report
VHAYES04 12/2/2019
Ty Report
CD24848958 11/14/2019
Thank you Report
KOALA_BEAR 9/28/2019
I started slowly 4-5 days a week for 10 or 15 & quickly was up to 20 or 30 min. Was walking 6 days a week & pushing 45 min when suddenly my back went out. Am now doing PT so suggest that older folks or anyone sedentary start with a checkup, go very slowly, & also do stretching exercises for the core, back & legs. Report
NASFKAB 9/28/2019
Thank you Report
KHALIA2 9/16/2019
Great Article! Thanks! Report
BIKERCHICK14 9/2/2019
Check with your doctor first :) I loved walking & hiking, but my L knee started to hurt, like, a lot. My doc examined me, took an x-ray, & advised against a walking program. I have half the cartilage left in my L knee, but it's inflamed. If I want to avoid a knee replacement, I need to bicycle & do other non-impact exercises, lose about 80# & strengthen my quads. I will probably be able to take up a walking plan once I'm lighter & stronger. If you have chronic knee pain, run it by a sports medicine physician. Report
OK - walking sounds like an easy way to begin an exercise routine for life..... Report
Awesome...thanks... Report
K12556 7/10/2019
Great advice Report
KHALIA2 6/1/2019
Great info! Report
MARTHA324 4/17/2019
When I started I aimed for just a 10 minute walk. After I got my pedometer I worked up to getting 10,000 steps and getting 30 minutes of aerobic walking. Since I was working most days those steps were broken in to 10 - 20 minute segments. Report
MSROZZIE 4/3/2019
Good need-to-know information, thanks! Report
good article Report
Thanks Report
As long as the shoes are good, walking is good. Report
great information Report
It seems you burn the same number of calories (give or take a few) no matter what speed you cover a mile in. About 100 calories if you go 2 miles an hour or 8 miles an hour. Report
Thank you for the good information......... Report
good info Report
Good advice, especially about the footwear Report
This was helpful. After 40 years of desk jobs, my walking for exercise was below average. It seemed like everything I read pointed to 30 minutes or else. In the beginning 15 was it. I slowly worked up to 40 minutes at a good quick pace. And I do it in my house. Report
good info Report
Great article with timely tips Report
I try to walk every day but some days are not nearly as long as others. If I skip one day, it is easier to skip the next and so on. Report
Great tips as always, Coach Nicole! Report
Good info Report
Good article! Report
Just what I needed! Thank you! Report
Perfect article to help my walking. Just started and felt bad because I couldn't walk very far right away. Report
Very informative! Report
Be obscure clearly.
- E. B. White Report
Great article! Report
We started doing our walks as a family. My husband, my 2 young girls and I, best decision we could have ever made. It made our activity so much more rewarding. Report
I love to walk it helps me keep my mind clear for other things
and my dogs like it also Report
I look forward to walking as soon as I lose a bit and maybe will help arthritis Report
Started walking a few months ago then a neighbor asked me to walk their dog. So now I get paid to do my walking. It is a win-win situation. Report
I've gotten up to about 3 miles a day, which is way more than I ever thought I'd do. I'm getting a little tired of my normal route, though, I think I need to switch it up to keep myself motivated. Report
I walk every day and walk 35 minutes on a short day. Walk about 80 minutes on long day, though I would prefer to walk for 3 hours a day but can't. Report
This is SO me right now. I am just starting and so proud of myself to be doing 30 min per day at an aerobic heart rate. It is hard work! Report
Good to know, that starting out slow and building on that is the best way to do it. Thanks, Multnomah Report
I like the moderate approach described in this blog. I have back and knee problems, so cannot walk extensively, but every bit helps. I don't drive, so I HAVE to walk. When feeling better, I can hop off the bus a stop or two before my destination, or walk to a further stop before boarding. I keep a good pace, but honestly, in an urban neighborhood my safety demands stopping at streets, business driveways, and alleys to watch for vehicles, so a sustained high pace is impossible. I also supplement outdoor walking with chair marching, which I can sustain for periods of time.

One of the best motivators for me is my Spark Activity Tracker... I want to see that glow, and know that I am making progress. Report
I wouldn't mind walking to work. It's only 2 miles. But when it's -6 degrees, I don't think so. Report
Whenever I try to walk now, I start getting horrible back spasms. Does anyone have any suggestions for getting started with this problem? I used to walk all the time. Report
Why do you think Europeans are generally smaller then their American counterparts? Much fewer people own a vehicle so they walk or bike EVERYWHERE they go! It's a NO BRAINER! Walking is great for us, and the modern American society has killed walking as a lifestyle! :( Hence obesity. Ugh... Report
Even walking is hard on me I have a bad back and a really bad knee, I do take the dog to the dog park a couple times a week by the time I get back to my car my back and knee are killing me. I do go to water exercise 2 times a week for an hour each time. Report
I lost around 30kg walking, its fantastic for losing weight. I started by walking the 6km to work one day a week and gradually built up to every day. During summer I would sometimes walk both ways! I would change things up by walking up hills or taking scenic walks in the weekend. Report
Due to ankle surgery I must walk at a little slower pace - around 3mph. It is difficult to get my heart rate up if there are not any hills around but I find that 'shadow boxing' while I walk will increase the heart rate. It takes a little practice to find the correct rhythm. Report