As I have progressed through my 20’s into my 30’s, I have found walking to be my favorite activity. Walking in the woods is even better with extended time in the backcountry my favorite activity. I used to consider myself a runner often logging 20+ miles per week, but a sudden knee injury took me out of the running game temporarily. I still enjoy sprinting intervals, hill climbs, and walk/run interval training, but longer steady state running and especially downhill running do not mix well with my past knee injury. I’m thankful, however, that I can continue hiking year after year. I built up my strength, endurance, and mobility to be able to handle backpacking with 30 lb+ loads without an issue.

Although I love the feeling of opening up the lungs after a hill climb running, I have peacefully accepted the fact that regular long-term running is not the best for my body. I make sure to include sprint intervals into my yearly training regimen as well as barefoot running in the grass and sand, so I am as well-rounded as possible but have focused more attention on hiking and walking on a daily and weekly basis. My goal is to hike the PCT in sections through the years and to be able to keep up with my active daughter as she grows up.

The benefits of walking have been studied extensively and for those who live sedentary lifestyles, walking is the most accessible form of activity. Walking briskly 20-25 minutes per day has been shown to add 3-7 years to your life, according to a study by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress. 

Walking has also been shown to:

  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Improve blood lipid profile
  • Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
  • Enhance mental well being
  • Reduce your risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer
  • Reduce your risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes
  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
  • Reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer

(The American Heart Association)

Walking at varying intensities has shown to improve health outcomes as well including improved aerobic fitness, leg strength, and blood pressure readings according to Dr. Hiroshi Noshi from Japan as seen in the New York Times. So much good from an activity so simple and essential for our everyday life. A form of movement we often take for granted until it’s hindered by injury.

In an age where most of us spend too much time inside in front of screens, walking provides us with a natural way to maintain and enhance our health as we age while also experiencing nature, fresh air, sunlight, and time away from distraction and technology. Read more about the benefits of walking here by Dr. Mercola.

The American Hiking Society has a simple fact sheet on how walking can benefit our health.

Another great resource is the website EXRX.net. They have an entire selection of fitness tests one can use to assess muscular endurance, heart rate response to exercise, flexibility, and much more. I’ll often use the Rockport Walk Test to establish a baseline for my clients who have been deconditioned or who have a goal of training for an event and want to track their cardiovascular fitness as they train. The Health Age Questionnaire is another great assessment of your overall health and predicted lifespan, which is pretty interesting to play around with regarding the number of alcoholic drinks one consumes or psychological levels.

If you need some motivation to get out and walk, check out my post on Hiking around the Three Sisters Wilderness Trail. Building a daily/weekly walking routine can help you prepare for a hike of your dreams while also keeping you healthy. If you’re anything like me, having a goal to work towards is essential to keeping up a regular health and fitness program. Stay tuned for a sample walking/hiking routine that progresses from beginner to advanced.