Walking Workouts: The Softer—Yet Effective—Side of Interval Training
Whether you’re a professional athlete looking for an edge over the competition or a recreational exerciser looking to maintain your weight and promote overall health, intervals, or short bouts of intense activity alternated with recovery, are often recommended.
Potential benefits of pushing yourself to the max for brief periods include burning fat, building muscle, boosting heart health, and the big one: efficiency. If you don’t have hours to dedicate to fitness (or would rather not), you can find high-intensity workouts that require less than an hour.
For some of us, however, the thought of an interval workout erases all the appeal just explained. The prospect of running, jumping, or hoisting weights until you can barely stand might be the last thing that’s going to get you into the gym or out the door. Fortunately, lower intensity alternatives are emerging—for example, walking workouts, where you get your heart rate up for short stretches, but not to the extreme level associated with interval training.
Simply put, walk fast for bit (say one minute), then walk at your normal pace for a minute. Repeat these intervals within a set period of time (10 minutes, for example). You can adjust the length of the overall workout and the intervals depending on your fitness and ability level. You may want to work with a physical therapist or personal trainer who’s familiar with your goals and any physical limitations to come up with your own plan.
And if you think you need to sprint or hustle up the stairs to improve cardiovascular health, keep in mind that research shows that there are health benefits to walking. Researchers with a Japanese study published in 2007 found that people who followed an interval walking program for five months had significant improvements in aerobic fitness, leg strength, and blood-pressure readings compared with people who walked at a moderate, steady level.
Another benefit of walking intervals is that walking is very accessible. It doesn’t require special equipment or facilities, and people with wide-ranging abilities are able to do it (compared with sports like running and cycling, which require a higher ability level). With this accessibility, people are more likely to stick with a walking routine than something more demanding. This is important, as no form of exercise is effective in the if you don’t make it a habit.
To determine how likely people were to stick with an interval walking program, researchers in Japan (including some from the study described above) evaluated almost 1,000 men and women. The study’s exercise program included five or more sets of fast and slow walking for three minutes each. Participants were supposed to do this routine at least four days per week for five-and-a-half months. An average of 70 percent of participants maintained the routine (and enjoyed various health benefits)—demonstrating that people are likely to stick with a walking program.
You certainly don’t need to be an elite athlete or commit to grueling workouts to enjoy the benefits on interval training. And with the far more user-friendly walking approach, you might even be more likely to stick with your routine and reap long-term benefits.
 Nemoto K, Gen-no H, Masuki S, et al. Effects of High-Intensity Interval Walking Training on Physical Fitness And Blood Pressure in Middle-Aged and Older People. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2007 Jul;82(7):803-11.
 Masuki S, Mori M, Tabara Y, et al. The Factors Affecting Adherence to a Long-Term Interval Walking Training Program in Middle-Aged and Older People. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2015 Mar 1;118(5):595-603. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00819.2014. Epub 2014 Dec 24.