Does walking 30 minutes a day make a difference? Here's what I learned after one month

Walking 30 minutes a day can do wonders for your health, here's what I learned doing it for a month

Photo of woman walking down steps with white trainers on and jeans, representing walking 30 minutes a day
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Walking 30 minutes a day may not seem like very much to make significant changes to your health, but from my experience, it's the activity that can make all the difference.  

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, recently I've been struggling with how to work out in winter as the darker days make early mornings and later nights less appealing. 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've written about how to start running as I'm approaching my first half-marathon and I wore a Fitbit on my ankle for a week), so was very prepared to give myself a break from my regular cardio activities, swapping in a half hour session of power walking. 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 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 (opens in new tab) 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 pushes you to discover more places

I found that the 30-minute cut-off time forced me to get adventurous. 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 (opens in new tab) 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. 

Photographs of Grace Walsh walking along a canal with coffee cup in hand, in a leafy park, and at the gym

Walking is one of the most versatile workouts, as I discovered, and it pushes you to go further. 

(Image credit: Grace Walsh/Future)

3. 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. 

4. 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. 

5. Improvements in my mental health

We've all heard about the benefits of walking 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 (opens in new tab) and Boston University (opens in new tab) 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. 

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 (opens in new tab) 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. 
Grace Walsh
Health Editor

A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.

She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.