Cardiovascular exercise, also known as cardio, is any activity that increases your heart and respiratory rate, promoting the health of the heart and lungs. Is walking cardio?

Absolutely! Walking qualifies as a form of cardio, especially when done at a brisk pace.

I love walking because it’s enjoyable, easy, and kind to my joints. Good for the heart and great for the soul. It can work for you, too, and it’s not really all that difficult.

Cardio exercise is any physical activity that elevates the heart rate and maintains it within a specific range for a sustained period can contribute to improved cardiovascular fitness.

This makes walking an excellent option for many people, including those starting their fitness journey or with limitations that make high-impact activities challenging. It’s like the avocado of workouts: versatile, beneficial, and suits almost everyone!

Is walking cardio?

Is Walking Cardio?

What is cardio exercise?

Cardio exercise, short for cardiovascular exercise, refers to physical activity that increases the heart rate and promotes improved blood circulation. It means doing exercises that engage large muscle groups, typically in a rhythmic and sustained manner.

Examples of cardio, or aerobic exercise, include walking, running, cycling, and swimming. In my opinion, walking is the best of these as it is low impact, free, and can be done everywhere you go. Even traveling.

Cardio exercise aims to strengthen the cardiovascular system, including the heart and blood vessels. Cardio improves the efficiency with which your heart pumps blood and oxygen to the tissues of your body.

Additionally, it plays a significant role in enhancing lung capacity and overall respiratory function.

Why is walking cardio?

Walking is considered a form of cardiovascular (cardio) exercise because it involves large muscle groups, particularly in the legs, and enhances heart and lung function over time.

How does walking improve cardiovascular health?

Here are the significant benefits of walking.

  • Strengthens the heart muscle, helping to prevent heart disease and manage blood pressure.
  • Aids in burning calories and is a key component in weight loss and obesity prevention.
  • Improves lung function and efficiency in oxygen utilization.
  • Lowers the risk of several diseases, including diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
  • Reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. It boosts mood by releasing endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.
  • Regular participants often report better quality sleep and increased energy levels.
  • Can increase the metabolic rate, aiding in energy consumption and digestion.
  • Helps lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, commonly known as bad cholesterol.
  • Helps increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol, which protects against heart diseases.
  • Improves flexibility and balance, reducing the risk of falls.
  • As a low-impact aerobic exercise, walking is easier on the joints compared to high-impact activities like running.

When is walking considered cardio?

A casual stroll is a more relaxed form of walking, typically done at a leisurely pace. It’s excellent for overall health and can still provide cardiovascular benefits, especially for beginners or those with lower fitness levels.

However, it may not significantly elevate your heart rate or challenge your cardiorespiratory system as much as brisk walking.

Brisk walking is a faster, more intentional form of walking. Brisk walking elevates the heart rate more than a casual stroll. It’s typically at a pace where you can talk but might find it challenging to sing.

This level of intensity is more effective at improving cardiovascular fitness and burning more calories and can be a stepping stone to more intense forms of cardio exercises.

Does a walk count as cardio? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on you, your fitness level, and how fast you’re walking. It’s easy to figure out, though, as I’ll describe below. I do both occasionally, depending on my mood, energy, and goals.

For a walk to qualify as cardio, it should be at a speed that challenges your body, increases your breathing rate, and elevates your heart rate to a certain level.

The specific speed or intensity can vary based on individual fitness levels and conditions. The key is to maintain a vigorous pace to reap the cardiovascular benefits.​​

Different Intensities of Cardio Workouts

Cardio workouts can be categorized based on their intensity.

Low-Intensity Cardio

This form involves activities like walking or slow cycling. It’s generally easy to sustain for long periods and is suitable for beginners or those with certain health conditions.

Moderate-Intensity Cardio

This includes brisk walking, moderate cycling, or light jogging. It elevates your heart rate and breathing but allows for conversation during the activity.

High-Intensity Cardio

Activities like running, fast cycling, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) fall under this category. These workouts significantly increase heart rate and breathing, making sustained conversation difficult.

They are more demanding and are usually recommended for people with a higher fitness level.

Very High-Intensity Cardio

These are extremely challenging activities, like sprinting or advanced HIIT. They are typically performed in short bursts and require maximum effort.

Heart Rate and Walking

Understanding Heart Rate

Your heart rate, or the number of times your heart beats per minute, indicates exercise intensity. During exercise like walking, your heart rate increases to supply more oxygen-rich blood to your muscles.

Target Heart Rate Zone

This is a range where you aim to keep your heart rate during cardio exercise for optimal benefits. It’s usually calculated as a percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR), roughly estimated as 220 minus your age.

220 – 45 (age in years) = 175

For moderate-intensity exercise, you typically aim for 50-70% of your MHR; for vigorous activity, it’s about 70-85%.

87.5 – 122.5 bpm (beats per minute)

So, in this previous example, in target heart rate calculation, a person who is 45 years old would have a maximum heart rate of 175 bpm and a goal of between 87.5 and 122.5 bpm for moderate-level intensity exercise.

Aim to walk at a pace that raises your heart rate within the moderate-intensity zone to make walking a moderate-intensity cardio exercise. You can monitor this using a heart rate monitor or manually checking your pulse.

How to Measure and Achieve the Right Walking Pace for Cardio?

A fitness watch or app can help track your pace and heart rate in real-time. Remember, the right speed can vary based on individual fitness levels.

Alternatively, you can determine your heart rate manually. Place your fingers (not the thumb, as it has its own pulse) on your wrist at the base of the thumb or on your neck, just under the jawbone. Count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by two for beats per minute.

The key is to walk at a pace that elevates your heart rate into the target zone, which is more likely with brisk walking than a casual stroll.

Is walking good for weight loss?

Walking can be good for weight loss. It’s a low-impact, accessible form of exercise that burns calories and can contribute to creating a calorie deficit, which is essential for losing weight. Consistency and a brisk pace can enhance its effectiveness.

Walking increases heart rate, leading to higher calorie burn, which is essential for weight loss. A brisk pace elevates the heart rate more, boosting this effect.

Consistently walking at a pace that significantly raises your heart rate can create a calorie deficit, contributing to weight loss when combined with a balanced diet.

Incorporating Walking into Your Cardio Routine

Starting a walking routine can be an excellent way to improve your fitness, especially if you’re a beginner. Here are some tips to get started.

Set Realistic Goals

Start with attainable goals based on your current fitness level. For example, begin with a 15-20 minute walk and gradually increase duration and distance.

Choose the Right Gear

Invest in a comfortable pair of walking shoes with good support. Wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing.

Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Begin each walk with a 5-minute slow walk to warm up your muscles. End with a cool-down and some gentle stretching.

Maintain Proper Form

Keep your head up, shoulders relaxed, and back straight. Your arms should swing naturally with a slight bend in the elbows.

Stay Hydrated

Drink water before, during, and after your walk, especially in warm weather.

Consistency is Key

Aim to walk at least 3-5 times a week. Consistency is more important than intensity when starting.

Mix Up Your Routes

Change your walking routes to keep the routine exciting and explore new surroundings. Alternate walking outside with doing your walking cardio on a treadmill if the weather is poor. Walk alone occasionally. Walk with a friend to mix it up.

Does a 30-minute walk count as cardio?

A 30-minute walk counts as cardio, especially if it’s brisk. It elevates the heart rate, improves cardiovascular health, and can be easily incorporated into daily routines for consistent fitness benefits.

How long should I walk for cardio?

For practical cardio benefits, walk at least 150 minutes a week at a moderate pace or 75 minutes at a vigorous pace. This can be broken down into daily walks of 30 minutes, five days a week.

How to increase cardio while walking

  • Gradually increase your walking speed. Aim for a brisk walk where you can talk but not sing.
  • Add short bursts of speed for a minute or two, followed by a few minutes of regular-paced walking.
  • Find routes with hills or use the incline feature on a treadmill. Walking uphill increases the intensity and works your leg muscles more.
  • Use light hand weights or a weighted vest to make walking more challenging.
  • Engage your core and use a more vigorous arm motion. Power walking can significantly increase your heart rate.
  • Incorporate lunges, squats, or walking upstairs to make your routine more challenging.

Using Technology to Track Progress

Wearable devices like Fitbit, Garmin, or Apple Watch can track steps, distance, calories burned, and heart rate.

In addition, many smartphone apps are available for tracking your walking routine. Apps like MapMyWalk, Strava, or Nike Run Club (also great for walkers) offer GPS tracking, distance, pace, and route mapping.

Use these apps to set specific goals, like distance or number of steps, and track your progress over time. Many apps also offer online communities where you can share your progress, join challenges, and get support.

Apps like Spotify or Audible can make your walks more enjoyable. Some apps even offer walking-specific playlists or audio coaching.

Misconceptions About Walking

Walking is sometimes underestimated in terms of its effectiveness as a cardio workout. Here are some common misconceptions.

❌”Walking is not exercise.”

Many believe that to be effective, cardio workouts must be high-intensity. While high-intensity activities have benefits, walking provides a moderate-intensity exercise that is accessible, sustainable, and still offers significant cardiovascular benefits.

❌”Walking doesn’t burn enough calories.”

While walking burns fewer calories per minute than running or cycling, longer walking sessions can cumulatively burn a substantial number of calories. Plus, it’s easier for most people to sustain longer walking durations.

❌”It’s only for beginners or older adults.”

Walking is often seen as a stepping stone to “more serious” exercises. However, it’s an effective exercise for all ages and fitness levels, and its low-impact nature makes it sustainable long-term.

Not just a “starter” exercise, walking is an aerobic exercise that works for many people. It can play a solid role in a well-rounded fitness plan. Its accessibility, combined with its range of health benefits, makes it an excellent choice for people at all fitness levels and stages of life.

Tips for Success

✅Listen to Your Body

Adjust the intensity and duration based on how you feel. It’s important to avoid overtraining.

✅Stay Hydrated and Eat Well

Proper nutrition and hydration will support your increased activity levels.

✅Track Your Progress

Use a fitness tracker or app to monitor your progress and stay motivated.

✅Enjoy Variety

Mix up your routines to keep them interesting and challenging. Choose walking routes everywhere you travel, like the Freedom Trail in Boston or Fairy Falls in Yellowstone.

Tips for Walking Safely

Here are some tips for safe walking, emphasizing the importance of proper footwear and posture, and guidelines on knowing your limits and when to seek medical advice.

💚Start Slowly

If you have a pre-existing condition, begin with short, gentle walks and gradually increase the duration and intensity.

💚Choose Flat, Smooth Surfaces

To reduce the risk of falls or joint strain, walk on flat, even surfaces, especially if you have balance issues or joint pain.

💚Avoid Extreme Weather Conditions

Extremely hot, cold, or humid weather can strain your body, particularly if you have heart or respiratory conditions.

💚Carry a Cell Phone

Have a means of communication in case of an emergency, especially if you’re walking alone. I always bring my phone and have had reason to use it more than once.

💚Inform Someone About Your Walks

Let a family member or friend know your walking route and expected return time.

💚Footwear for walking

Wear supportive and comfortable shoes that are designed for walking or athletic activities. Proper footwear helps absorb shock, support your arches, and prevent injuries.

💚Posture while walking

Maintain a good posture while walking – keep your head up, relax your neck and shoulders, and gently engage your core. Avoid looking down constantly, as this can cause neck and back strain.

💚Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to signs of fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, or dizziness. If you experience any of these, stop and rest; if they persist, seek medical attention.

💚Pre-Walk Medical Consultation

If you have a pre-existing condition, consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. They can provide personalized advice based on your health status.

💚Be Aware of Medication Effects

Some medications can affect your heart rate, hydration levels, or energy. Be aware of these effects and adjust your walking routine accordingly.

💚Don’t Ignore Pain

If you experience joint pain, chest pain, or unusual discomfort during or after walking, consulting with a healthcare professional is essential.

A person walking in the woods with a backpack ono and her arms outstretched

FAQs on Walking as Cardio

What Makes Walking a Cardio Exercise?

Walking becomes a cardio workout at a pace that elevates your heart rate within 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. This intensity typically requires brisk walking, about 2.7 miles (4.3 kilometers) per hour or 100 steps per minute.

Is just walking enough cardio?

Walking can be sufficient cardio, especially if it’s brisk and regular, meeting the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes per week at a moderate pace. It improves heart health, but variety in exercise routines can enhance overall fitness.

Should I do cardio or just walk?

Both walking and other forms of cardio are beneficial. Walking is a great low-impact cardio option, but including varied cardio exercises can enhance overall fitness. The choice depends on your fitness goals, health conditions, and personal preferences.

Is walking good cardio for fat loss?

Yes, walking is an effective cardio exercise for fat loss. It burns calories, can be sustained for long periods, and contributes to overall fat reduction when combined with a healthy diet.

Is walking aerobic exercise?

Yes, walking is an aerobic exercise. It increases heart rate and breathing, using oxygen to help fuel the activity, making it effective for improving cardiovascular health and aiding in weight management.

Final Thoughts

Walking is more than just a basic activity; it’s a versatile, accessible, and effective way to enhance your cardiovascular health. It’s a great starting point for anyone new to exercise and a valuable addition for seasoned fitness lovers.

If you’ve been underestimating the power of walking, it might be time to lace up your walking shoes and give it a try. Happy walking!