Walking 30 minutes a day may not seem like that much exercise. But trust me, when you create a consistent routine, it can be more than enough to get moving, stay fit, and reap the mental health benefits of exercise.
Often when we talk about exercise, it's all about doing more; more miles, more reps, and more sessions every week. No matter the reason behind the workout, many of us find that once we start doing something, we feel the need to do more. Taking a step back and focusing on doing less can have so many benefits for our mental and physical health. It can also, as I found, encourage us to think differently about how we exercise altogether.
I'm equally as guilty of the 'more' mentality as anyone else. I really enjoy working out and find myself in the gym, out running, or at spin class most days of the week - probably for the best, considering I'm also woman&home's digital health editor. However, the evenings and mornings are getting darker all of a sudden and I struggle with exercise in winter. I've been looking for a change and something to revamp my routine for darker days.
I've taken on a whole host of fitness challenges (most recently, I tried running for 20 minutes a day during the summer), so was very prepared to give myself a break from my regular cardio activities, swapping in a half-hour session of walking as a workout. Here's what I learned about the benefits of scaling back and just focusing on walking 30 minutes a day.
What are the benefits of walking 30 minutes a day?
1. Walking is a great source of low-intensity cardio exercise
Starting with the basics, even though I wasn't going for my twice-weekly runs anymore, I was still getting in enough cardio exercise to keep my heart pumping.
Walking is a type of LISS cardio exercise. As HIIT's more relaxed twin, it's all about keeping your heartbeat at a relatively low level - around 40 to 50% of your maximum heart rate. Over time, research from the University of Wisconsin shows, this can have a majorly positive impact on your cardiovascular fitness.
What's more, rather than returning home tired in the evenings and needing to go to bed as I would after an evening run, I found I had more energy in the evenings - as if my short burst of cardio and fresh air had perked me up after sitting down at the office for most of the day.
2. Walking for 30 minutes a day can be a great way to incorporate Zone 2 training
If you're looking to get fit with your half-an-hour walk every day - or just escape the potential monotony of the daily stroll - you may need to push the pace and include some Zone 2 training.
Popular among endurance athletes, Zone 2 training means working out at 6-70% of your maximum heart rate. The most popular forms are cycling, swimming, and rowing as it's easy to maintain a steady heart rate, but provided you're prepared to power walk, walking can be a great way to make the most of this type of workout too.
"Zone 2 training is something you can do at a pace you can maintain for an extended period, at least 30 minutes, but potentially for hours if you had to," says Jade Skillen, HYROX master trainer. "It uses fat and oxygen as fuel sources, so if you improve your body's ability to work within this lower heart rate zone without glycogen (carbohydrate), your capacity to exercise at higher intensity increases but at a lower heart rate and, therefore, a lower energy level."
For me, this was one of the biggest ways I changed up my routine walking 30 minutes a day. At the beginning, it was tricky getting up to this required heart rate as I had to walk very quickly - but it was worth it as it changed up the routine and meant I still experienced the feeling of a good workout.
Jade Skillen specialises in coaching people in HYROX, a heavily running-based type of fitness. She works with beginners and fitness novices right through to elite competitors, so is well-placed to provide advice for every level.
3. Walking for 30-minutes a day pushes you to discover more places
I found that the 30-minute cut-off time forced me to get adventurous, one of the unexpected benefits of walking every day. At the beginning of the month, I stuck to the same roads and paths I'd been down hundreds of times before - I only had half an hour, how far could I really go?
I started out just doing half an hour of steady walking to and from work every day, plus a coffee shop run or an afternoon stroll at the weekends, but by the second week I was finding new ways to walk.
Having discovered the AllTrails app a couple of months ago, I found new routes in my local area pretty quickly. The app has over 350,000 of them worldwide. Despite living in my area for almost two years, I've found new places to explore and even new terrains, having jumped on the train a couple of stops to get a little further away. In the past two weeks alone, I've gone over trails, canals, and heaths - and walked for a little more than 30 minutes, admittedly.
4. Walking for 30-minutes a day is fully adaptable
Naturally, as I live in the UK, it rains quite a lot. There's nothing quite like it to prevent me from heading out the door early for a walk before work. However, I do have a gym membership and at my gym, there is a treadmill. That's the great thing about walking - you really can do it anywhere at any time, even if you don't fancy heading outside.
I started to get very bored with just walking on the treadmill before my regular gym sessions though, so I picked up the 12-3-30 workout about a week into the month. One of the more famous HIIT treadmill workouts, this program went viral on social media last year for its simple approach to exercise:
- Step onto the treadmill and set the incline level to 12
- Set the speed to 3mph
- Walk for 30 minutes uninterrupted
While I kept to my regular walking pattern of a moderate pace for the other days of the week, anytime I went into a strength training session that was more upper body-focused rather than legs, I incorporated this HIIT workout in somewhere.
Walking 30 minutes a day is also adaptable as you can do it any time. While I mainly stuck to walking before and after work, there are proven benefits to walking after dinner for better digestion so it's worth giving this a try too.
5. It's a great way to get from one place to another
Living in a city, where the hustle and bustle of public transport can make getting from A to B difficult at times, makes walking one of the best modes of transport. Living in London, I'm lucky enough to have access to a good public transport network. However, the tube, buses, and trains do all tend to get very busy very quickly with commuters no matter the time of day.
Over the last month, I've switched my 10-minute ride for a 30-minute walk and reaped the benefits of personal space - alongside more exercise. Being able to do this also kept me consistent on the days when I really didn't feel like walking. As much as the idea of walking in winter weather is unappealing, I'll always take it over a rush hour bus.
6. Improvements in my mental health
I know all about the benefits of exercise for our mental health but I'd always assumed this applied to mountainous treks and hikes in leafy surroundings rather than 30 minutes down a city road. Just a few days into the month, I noticed that I felt brighter in the mornings and including a slightly longer walk as part of my Sunday reset routine changed the game, giving me space to exercise out my pre-Monday anxieties.
While walking is no replacement for professional mental health aid, there are plenty of studies that confirm taking time out to exercise can do wonders for our mental health. Two such studies, from the University of Iseigaoka and Boston University respectively, even found it has some serious long-term benefits including lessening the risk of depression, insomnia, and anxiety over time. While I can't speak to the longer-term benefits of this walking routine, I intend to keep it up to find out.
Is walking 30 minutes a day enough?
If you're looking to know how much exercise you should do per week, then rest assured that 30 minutes of walking every day will cover you under NHS and CDC guidelines. Both health institutions recommend two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity.
Totaled up over seven days, walking for half an hour a day at a good pace will mean you do three and a half hours of exercise every week, which is one hour more than the minimum recommended amount. If you want to pick up the pace though, you could also try running 30 minutes a day and see how it goes.
Tips for making the most out of your walk
- Take music or a podcast with you: Unless you're in a hurry or practicing walking meditation, it can be tricky to focus on your walk and all the benefits of being outside. I found that plugging into music or a podcast helped the time pass quicker, whether I was walking outside or at the gym.
- Take a friend with you: In lockdown days, going for a walk with a friend was the highlight of many of our weeks. Now the world has opened up again, we're not doing it as much. Taking a friend with you on your 30-minute walk is a great way to fit socializing around your workout schedule, without getting too out of breath.
- Stay safe: Walking has so many benefits but depending on the number of cars and people around you, it has the potential to throw up some problems. I always make sure I carry some high-vis in my bag for evening walks and when I'm walking at night, I either wear my Shokz headphones where I can still hear everything that's going on around me or only listen through one earphone.
- Count your steps: Using one of the best Fitbits or another fitness tracker, count your steps over your 30 minutes and check your insights via the app to see how it changes over the month.
- Plan bigger walks for the weekend: If you don't have time to trek out of your local area for a 30-minute walk during the week, plan a longer route for the weekend. I found doing this gave me something to look forward to and provided a change of scenery.
Sign up to our free daily email for the latest royal and entertainment news, interesting opinion, expert advice on styling and beauty trends, and no-nonsense guides to the health and wellness questions you want answered.
Grace Walsh is woman&home's Health Channel Editor, working across the areas of fitness, nutrition, sleep, mental health, relationships, and sex. In 2024, she will be taking on her second marathon in Rome, cycling from Manchester to London (350km) for charity, and qualifying as a certified personal trainer.
A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace has covered (almost) everything in the world of health and wellbeing with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more.
Gently awaken dormant grass this month with Monty Don's valuable lawn care tip
Prioritise Monty Don's lawn care tip this month to ensure better health for your grass for the months ahead
By Tamara Kelly Published
9 easy ways to update your home for spring, from interior designers and Feng Shui professionals
Home experts share the easiest ways to spruce up your home for a spring refresh
By Millie Hurst Published