Whenever you are putting together a fitness routine, the first thing you have to consider is what type of exercise you will do.
When it comes to cardio exercise, there are tons of options, such as running, cycling, swimming, rowing, using an elliptical machine, and so on. Most people gravitate towards one particular type of exercise, or they enjoy mixing it up.
But, what about walking? Is walking cardio? Is walking exercise?
The good news is that while walking is often overlooked as a form of exercise, walking can indeed be good cardio exercise, depending on how you structure your walking workouts.
In this article, we will answer common questions such as “is walking cardio” and provide tips to ensure that your walking workouts qualify as cardio and are effective for helping you reach your fitness goals.
We will cover the following:
- Is Walking Exercise?
- Is Walking Considered Cardio Exercise?
- Is Walking Good Cardio Exercise?
- Tips for Walking for Cardio Exercise
Let’s dive in!
Is Walking Exercise?
When you are trying to decide what types of exercise to perform in your weekly workout program, you might wonder, “Is walking exercise?“ and “Is walking cardio exercise?”
First things first: Is walking exercise? This one is easy: yes, walking is exercise.
According to Oxford Languages, exercise is defined as “activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.”
Walking requires physical effort when compared to resting, sitting, standing, or other low-level activities. You can also walk to improve your health and fitness, and indeed walking has been shown to improve numerous aspects of both health and aerobic fitness.
Thus, walking is considered exercise because it satisfies the definition of exercise.
Is Walking Considered Cardio Exercise?
So, we know that walking qualifies as exercise, but is walking cardio exercise?
In order to answer this more specific question, we need to look at what qualifies as cardio exercise and the definition of a cardio workout.
The purpose of a cardio workout is to elevate your heart rate and respiration rate in order to strengthen the heart muscle and improve the efficiency of the cardiovascular system as a whole.
Cardio exercise is sometimes called aerobic exercise because it is exercise done at an intensity level that is difficult but low enough that you can still breathe while exerting yourself.
Therefore, your lungs are taking in oxygen, your heart is circulating oxygenated blood, and your muscles are extracting that oxygen and using it to generate ATP, which is energy for your muscle cells (and all body cells), through aerobic metabolic pathways.
So, what counts as cardio exercise? Is walking cardio?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are two zones of cardio exercise: moderate-intensity cardio exercise and vigorous-intensity cardio exercise.
Based on the CDC cardio zones, any exercise that increases your heart rate to 50-70% of your maximum heart rate falls under the umbrella of “moderate-intensity cardio exercise,” while a workout that elevates your heart rate to 70-85% of your maximum heart rate is considered “vigorous cardio exercise.”
There are no specific inclusions or exclusions about the type of exercise that you need to be doing in order to count as cardio exercise; rather, as long as the physical activity can increase your heart rate to at least 50% of your maximum heart rate, the exercise can count as a cardio workout.
Thus, walking is considered cardio exercise as long as you are walking briskly enough or intensely enough to increase your heart rate to at least 50% of your age-predicted maximum heart rate.
So, this may lead you to ask, “Can I count walking as a cardio workout?”
Again, the short answer is most likely, but in order to ensure that your walking workouts qualify as cardio exercise, you need to make sure that you are getting your heart rate up to 50% or more of your max heart rate.
There are various ways to monitor your heart rate during exercise, including wearing a chest strap heart rate monitor, a fitness watch with wrist-based heart rate monitoring, periodically holding onto the pulse grip handles on a treadmill to check your pulse, or manually taking your pulse during or immediately after your walking workout.
In terms of determining the threshold for walking to qualify as cardio exercise, you can establish your 50% max heart rate by using a formula that estimates your maximum heart rate.
The simplest max heart rate formula is the Fox Formula (220-age in years).
For example, if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 220-40 = 180 bpm. Then, you would divide this by two to determine the minimum heart rate you need to reach while walking or doing any form of physical activity in order for the workout to count as cardio exercise.
In this case, half of 180 bpm is 90 bpm.
Most people will find that reaching at least 50% of your maximum heart rate is quite easy and barely above resting conditions.
If you do not have access to a heart rate monitor and you don’t feel confident in your ability to take your pulse accurately, there are other ways to assess if your walking workout counts as cardio.
According to the American Academy of Sports Medicine (ACSM), walking or physical activity that is done at a step rate of 100 steps per minute, or 1,000 steps in 10 minutes, is considered moderate-intensity exercise, while anything over 100 steps per minute qualifies as vigorous-intensity cardio exercise.
If you want to use rate of perceived exertion (RPE), which is a qualitative assessment of your effort level, the ACSM considers any physical activity that falls between a 3 to 4 on the RPE scale from 0 to 10 as being moderate-intensity exercise while vigorous intensity exercise corresponds to an RPE of 5 to 7.
These seem rather low, so it may be best to increase both of those ranges by several counts to about 4 to 6 for moderate-intensity exercise and 7 to 9 for vigorous-intensity cardio exercise.
Is Walking Good Cardio Exercise?
There are many benefits of walking for cardio exercise, such as that you can increase your heart rate without increasing the impact on your joints.
Some studies have found that walking interventions (20-60 minutes per day, 2-7 days per week for a mean of 18 weeks) reduced systolic blood pressure (-3.58 mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure (-1.54 mm Hg).
A large review of 17 prospective studies involving over 30,000 adults found a significant association between daily step count and reduced risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease at follow-up 4-10 years later.
Each 1,000 daily step count increase at baseline reduced the risk of all-cause mortality by 6-36% and cardiovascular disease by 5-21%.
Furthermore, an older prospective study found that compared to walking less than one hour per week, walking more than four hours per week is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of hospitalizations due to cardiovascular disease, pointing to the health benefits of walking for cardio exercise.
Some also ask, “Is incline walking good cardio?” Yes, incline walking can be an especially good form of cardio exercise.
Studies show that even when you don’t increase your walking speed, increasing the grade with incline walking or running increases your heart rate during exercise.
Tips for Walking for Cardio Exercise
Here are a few tips to make your walking workouts more effective for cardio exercise:
#1: Walk Enough
You should strive to meet the guidelines for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation, which are to accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week.
#2: Wear a Heart Rate Monitor
It can be helpful to wear a heart rate monitor during your walking workouts to make sure you are walking briskly or intensely enough for walking to qualify as cardio.
The heart rate monitor will also help you quantify your effort level and the physiological impact of your walking workouts, helping determine if walking counts as moderate-intensity cardio or vigorous-intensity cardio.
#3: Use Your Arms
A vigorous arm swing will help increase your heart rate. You can also use walking poles by trying Nordic walking.
#4: Wear a Weighted Vest
A weighted vest will still allow your walking workouts to be low impact, but the added weight will help increase the intensity and allow you to get stronger and burn more calories.
For more information about other options for cardio exercise, check out our guide to alternative forms of cardio other than running here.