For the record, yes, walking is a legit way to be physically active. “Like many cardiovascular exercises or activities, walking at an appropriate intensity can help strengthen your heart and make it more efficient, burn some extra calories, improve respiratory functions, and elevate your mood through the release of endorphins,” says Doug Sklar, a NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of New York City fitness training studio PhilanthroFIT.
Of course, there’s a huge difference between going for a leisurely stroll and walking like you mean it. Here’s what you need to know about walking for exercise, plus how to max out your walking workout.
Walking burns more calories than you think.
Things like your weight, metabolism, speed, and the incline you’re walking on matter when it comes to calorie burn, says Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, nutritional advisor to Promix Nutrition and co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab. In general, you’re looking at about 100 calories per 1.6km if you’re moving at a brisk pace.
If you want to kick things up a notch, you can try walking up stairs or on a stair climber at the gym, says Matheny. Again, there are a bunch of variables involved in this, but he says you can burn about 200 calories per 1.6km if you’re walking upstairs.
So, if you walk 1.6km, you’ll burn about 100 calories. If you have the time to walk 8-10kmk, you’ll probably burn 500 to 800 calories (about the same as running or biking for an hour). And if you take it to the stairs, you're on a whole different, well, level.
Yes, you can actually get in shape by walking.
If you’re not as fit as you’d like to be, walking “can help tremendously,” says Matheny. He calls walking “a great entry point for a lot of people” and says it’s a “key foundation to have in place for getting in shape.” And yes, this “counts” as cardio. “Any physical activity that elevates your heart rate above its normal resting rate can be considered cardio,” says Matheny.
Walking is also really easy to do, he points out: “You can do it anywhere, it's easy to get started, and there’s no setup time.” And, if you want to lose weight but are nervous about diving straight into higher-impact activities, walking can help you lose body fat upfront, before you add in other types of fitness like running or spinning, says Matheny.
That said, how much walking helps you with your fitness depends on your baseline, says Sklar. If you regularly run half marathons, it’s unlikely that adding walking to the mix will do much to move your fitness forward. But if you tend to be pretty inactive, walking regularly can do a lot, he says—and then you can push it to the next level.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.