Does your idea of an effective cardio workout always involve 110% exertion and shirts so sweaty they could fill your shaker bottle when wrung? ?
Welp. If that’s the case… you’re overlooking one of the most effortless forms–yet highly effective–forms of cardio around: walking.
Wait. What?! As surprising as this may be, it’s true!
One could go as far as to say that walking could be better than 'traditional' forms of cardio, like HIIT, steady-state cardio, circuit training, etc. Unconvinced?
That's understandable. That's why this article exists; here's what you need to know about why walking counts as cardio, the unique benefits it brings, plus essential tips on making it a practical part of your exercise routine.
Yes, walking does indeed count as cardio
First things first, yes. Walking can definitely count as cardio.
And the reason comes down to the very definition of cardio (short for cardiorespiratory training): any exercise that creates such an energy demand on your system that it elevates your heart rate and gets your blood pumping faster.
Any exercise which stimulates an increased heart rate can be considered cardio–no matter its intensity (low, moderate, or high). Walking, thus, fits the bill.
Is walking better than other forms of cardio?
While 'better' is always subjective, there are several areas where walking has advantages over traditional cardio forms. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Minimally impacts muscle gains
As you probably already know by now, too much intense, high-impact cardio (e.g. HIIT, running, jump rope) spells disaster for your muscles.
These cardio forms involve a high degree of eccentric components, known to cause considerable muscle damage and, thus, require considerable time to recover from.
And this forces you into a situation where you either:
• Take time off lifting weights OR
• Lift lighter weights
Imaginably, neither of the options above are ideal for muscle growth as you’d experience a decrease in training volume–the most significant contributor to hypertrophy. Obviously, losing your hard-earned gains (or seeing a stall in your progress) is not a good thing.
Muscle not only boosts your metabolism but also allows you to transform your physique.
Now, does this all mean that you should skip out on cardio altogether to save your gains? Of course not.
If you do so, you'd be missing out on all the vital health benefits of regular cardio activity: improved cardiovascular health, lowered blood pressure, and strengthened immune system, amongst others.
What you should do, instead, is rely on walking as your main form of cardio activity. That's because walking is such a low-impact exercise that it requires minimal recovery, if at all.
That means it’s an easy way to reap the health benefits of cardio activity without affecting your performance and recovery when it comes to lifting weights. Brilliant, isn’t it?
Doesn't spark appetite
You finish up a 20-minute HIIT workout–and realize that you're starving. Like, you're really hungry. Ravenous, even. You end up polishing off 3 doughnuts, 5 packs of chips, and a large Frappuccino after to reward yourself for a workout well done.
Uh-oh. Guess what?
You’ve just annihilated the calorie deficit you created with your cardio. In fact, you may even be in a slight surplus now. That’s obviously no good for your weight loss journey.
Does the above sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone. Multiple studies have indicated that high-intensity forms of cardio tend to cause a larger increase in appetite and/or a desire to be rewarded in food–in turn, resulting in individuals eating back a significant portion of calories burned during the workout.
Ouch. All that cardio, going down the drain. To prevent this from happening (again), give walking a go.
Its low-intensity nature doesn't trigger as much of an appetite increase as seen with other forms of cardio.
According to a 2010 paper published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (MSSE), researchers found that participants were less likely to compensate for calories burned with increased food intake when they walked–compared to other cardio forms.
Easier on the joints
And of course, one of the most evident benefits that walking has over other forms of cardio is that it's easier on the joints.
This can be particularly helpful to you if you struggle with knee and joint pain.
Cardio types that involve running and jumping are higher-impact and can present more overuse injury risks than walking.
Take this 2016 study, for instance. The researchers found that the impact force of running to be significantly higher than walking–whether walking moderately or vigorously.
Find your ideal intensity level
Before you start thinking that walking is superior to all other forms of cardio…
Walking is good cardio. But here's a quick disclaimer: you're not going to see the same degree of calorie-burn with a 30-minute walk around the neighbourhood as you would with a 30-minute run. You're always going to burn more calories in the latter.
That said, you can always get the most bang for your buck out of your session by making sure that you’re walking at a challenging (but doable!) pace.
Psst: you don't have to speed walk.
Rate your effort on a scale of 10, where 10 is your all-out sprint. Ideally, you'd want to hit 3 to 4 out of 10–and sustain this during your session. This will help challenge your system enough to increase your heart rate (which is the very definition of cardio).
Of course, don't forget about lifting weights
Thinking of replacing your high-intensity cardio sessions with walking? That's great. You'd likely see faster weight loss results–as you wouldn't overeat from excessive post-workout hunger–and increased muscle gains.
It must be said, though, that you'd only see more gains if you put in the effort to lift weights consistently.
Don’t have access to the gym right now? We’ve got you. With an extensive library of bodyweight exercises, the GymStreak app is all you need to achieve your fitness goals. Input your details, and you'll gain access to personalized, periodized workout plans. It's that easy. Download it and see for yourself today.Get GymStreak
Church, T. S., Martin, C. K., Thompson, A. M., Earnest, C. P., Mikus, C. R., & Blair, S. N. (2009). Changes in Weight, Waist Circumference and Compensatory Responses with Different Doses of Exercise among Sedentary, Overweight Postmenopausal Women. PLoS ONE, 4(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0004515
King, J. A., Wasse, L. K., Broom, D. R., & Stensel, D. J. (2010). Influence of brisk walking on appetite, energy intake, and plasma acylated ghrelin. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42(3), 485–492. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181ba10c4
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Proske, U., & Morgan, D. L. (2001). Muscle damage from eccentric exercise: Mechanism, mechanical signs, adaptation and clinical applications. The Journal of Physiology, 537(Pt 2), 333–345. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7793.2001.00333.x
Swain, D. P., Kelleran, K. J., Graves, M. S., & Morrison, S. (2016). Impact Forces of Walking and Running at the Same Intensity. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(4), 1042–1049. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000001185