Faster walking for shorter durations of time likely has better overall health benefits as it teaches speed, something that we lose as we get older.
Shorter, longer durations of walking are of course still beneficial if you are unable to walk fast, safely.
Health Benefits of Walking
Before we jump into the debate, let’s first establish why walking is so awesome. Walking is a low-impact, accessible form of exercise that offers numerous health benefits. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, improve cardiovascular health, boost your mood, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases (1). Plus, it’s an activity that people of all ages and fitness levels can enjoy. So, regardless of whether you walk faster or longer, you’re already winning!
Walking Faster: The Pros
One of the main advantages of walking faster is that you can achieve your daily dose of exercise in less time. If you have a busy schedule, walking briskly might be the perfect solution to keep you moving without eating up too much of your day.
b. Increases cardiovascular fitness
Walking faster can increase your heart rate, which helps improve your cardiovascular fitness (2). When you pick up the pace, your heart and lungs have to work harder, making them stronger and more efficient in the long run.
c. Burns more calories
A higher walking speed can also help you burn more calories (3). If you’re looking to lose or maintain weight, walking briskly can be a helpful strategy to achieve your goals.
Walking Longer: The Pros
Walking for longer durations can be more sustainable for some individuals. If you’re not a fan of pushing yourself to walk at faster paces, or if you have mobility issues, taking a longer, more leisurely stroll might be the better option for you.
b. Mental health benefits
Longer walks can offer mental health benefits by giving you more time to unwind, relax, and enjoy the scenery around you (4). Walking can be a form of meditation, allowing you to clear your mind and reduce stress.
c. Better for socializing
If you’re walking with friends or family, walking longer at a comfortable pace can foster better conversations and social connections. It’s much easier to chat when you’re not huffing and puffing from trying to maintain a brisk pace.
The Science: Faster or Longer?
Research has shown that faster and longer walks can offer health benefits, but they might target different aspects of your health. One study found that walking at a faster pace was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular events, while walking for longer durations was linked to a lower risk of heart failure (5).
Another study concluded that both walking faster and walking longer are independently associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality. Still, the benefits of walking faster seemed to be slightly more pronounced (6). So, when it comes to science, it seems that both approaches have their merits, with a slight edge to walking faster.
Finding Your Sweet Spot
The best approach for you might depend on your personal preferences, fitness level, and goals. If you’re short on time and want to maximize the health benefits, walking faster might be the way to go. On the other hand, if you prefer a more leisurely pace and value the mental health benefits of walking, taking longer strolls might be your cup of tea.
In any case, the key is consistency. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (like running) per week, or a combination of both (7). Find the balance that works for you, and stick to it!
In the great debate of walking faster versus walking longer, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Both approaches offer health benefits, and the best choice for you depends on your preferences, fitness level, and goals. So, listen to your body, find your sweet spot, and keep on walking!
1. Murphy, M. H ., Lahart, I. M., Carlin, A., & Murtagh, E. M. (2019). The effects of continuous compared to accumulated exercise on health: A meta-analytic review. Sports Medicine, 49(10), 1585-1607. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01145-2
2. Murtagh, E. M., Nichols, L., Mohammed, M. A., Holder, R., Nevill, A. M., & Murphy, M. H. (2015). The effect of walking on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised control trials. Preventive Medicine, 72, 34-43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.12.041
3. Ainsworth, B. E., Haskell, W. L., Herrmann, S. D., Meckes, N., Bassett Jr, D. R., Tudor-Locke, C., Greer, J. L., Vezina, J., Whitt-Glover, M. C., & Leon, A. S. (2011). 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities: A second update of codes and MET values. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(8), 1575-1581. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e31821ece12
4. Firth, J., Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Schuch, F., Lagopoulos, J., Rosenbaum, S., & Ward, P. B. (2018). Effect of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis. NeuroImage, 166, 230-238. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.11.007
5. Kyu, H. H., Bachman, V. F., Alexander, L. T., Mumford, J. E., Afshin, A., Estep, K., Veerman, J. L., Delwiche, K., Iannarone, M. L., Moyer, M. L., … & Forouzanfar, M. H. (2016). Physical activity and risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke events: Systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. BMJ, 354, i3857. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i3857
6. Kelly, P., Kahlmeier, S., Götschi, T., Orsini, N., Richards, J., Roberts, N., Scarborough, P., & Foster, C. (2014). Systematic review and meta-analysis of reduction in all-cause mortality from walking and cycling and shape of dose response relationship. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 11(1), 132. [https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-014-0132-x](https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-014-0132-x)
7. American Heart Association. (2018). American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults