Walking for health

Walking is a safe form of endurance-building exercise which everyone may enjoy. When walking the muscles of the legs, hips, mid-torso and arms all work together. For example, a seventy-five kilogram man actively employs some 12-15 kg of muscles when walking. Walking means exercising at sub maximum effort. It is also safe for the support and movement systems because the centre of gravity of the body is kept close to its centre. This reduces strain on the feet, ankles, knees and lower back. The load borne by the lower limbs during the striding action is roughly equivalent to the weight of the body. By contrast during jogging the corresponding load is some three times greater than the body’s own weight.

On the basis of scientific evidence the suitable daily amount of walking for the maintenance of good health is one of the following:

  • One hour of continuous vigorous walking,
  • Burning up extra 150 kcal of energy,
  • 8,000 – 10,000 strides
  • five flights of steps five times (each day)

On the basis of controlled training studies regular walking for fitness in adults not only improves endurance but also blood lipid profiles and the body’s general composition. Walking also has favourable effects on the resting blood pressure, bone strength and mental attitude. In both jogging/walking studies of Swiss men and studies of walking exercising in Finnish adults results indicated that vigorous walking raises aerobic endurance and improves health.

The amount of energy consumed during walking depends on the speed of walking and on body weight. Already at normal walking pace the body’s metabolism increases threefold in comparison with the resting condition. If the speed is over 7 km / hour then the energy consumption is comparable with that during jogging. An eighty kilogram adult uses 60% more energy during vigorous walking than does a person weighing 50 kilograms. A medium-sized woman thus uses considerably less energy during walking than a normal-sized man with the same speed.

If the walking surface is soft and especially if it is hilly the energy consumed goes up. Vigorous arm action and, e.g. use of poles, hand-held weights or elbow weights all increase energy consumption as well. Use of extra weights may however reduce the walking speed so that its overall increase in energy consumption is also reduced. Table 1 shows the energy consumption occurring during vigorous walking (6 km/hour) in people of different weights.

Table 1.

Body weight (kg) 

Energy consumption (kcal)

per minute

50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 kg

4   5   5   6   7    8     9    10 kcal

per 30 minutes

50    60   70   80    90   100   110  120 kg

120 150 165 180 210 240  270  300 kcal

per hour

50    60   70   80    90   100   110  120 kg

240 300 330 360 420 480  540  600   kcal

Walking technique

Walking with a good technique means that the stride begins as the heel touches the ground and ends when the toe together with the ball of the foot pushes itself off the ground. The pelvis lifts up high and the general posture is taut and forward leaning. The upper and lower torso are involved in a clearly defined counter-swinging motion during which the mid-torso muscle groups are actively worked. Opposite arms and legs swing alternately forwards and back. Through the years researchers have used differing terms to describe the various phases of walking. In Finland the terminology is now established as follows: heel strike, mid-foot support, heel raise, toe thrust, initial swing, mid-swing and closing swing.