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Walking for exercise

11-minute read

Key facts

  • Any amount of walking is good for your health.
  • Walking is a simple and effective form of exercise you can do in your everyday life.
  • Walking is known to improve your mental and physical health.
  • Warm up before walking with simple exercises and stretches to help prevent injuries.
  • Speak with your doctor before you start walking to exercise, especially if you have a medical condition.

How can I turn walking into exercise?

You can turn walking into exercise by walking regularly at a moderate pace. A ‘moderate' pace is faster than you would normally walk but you are still able to speak comfortably.

Any amount of walking is great for your health and there are many benefits to walking as an exercise, such as:

  • it's free
  • you can do it almost anywhere
  • you can do it while spending time with friends and family, or as a way to meet others
  • it improves your physical and mental health
  • it's good for the environment, especially if you walk instead of driving

How long do I need to walk?

Australian adults are recommended to do at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week. 30 minutes of walking is equal to around 3,000 to 4,000 steps.

You may have heard that it’s recommended to attempt 10,000 steps in a day. While this is a great goal to help Australians increase their physical activity, not everyone will be able to achieve this number of steps and that's OK.

If you can't find time in your day to walk, or if you don't yet have the fitness to walk far in one session, you can break it up. For example, take 3 short walks of 10 minutes each, or walk to the shops and back instead of driving. This is a great way to get started if you are new to exercise, since you can start easy with short walks and slowly build up the length of walk. Once you build up fitness, look to add some hills or stairs to your daily walks.

Set your goals

Setting a goal for yourself is important, and will motivate you to walk. You can then increase your goals as you gain strength and fitness.

You can also speak with your doctor about what goal to set, and how you can build up your physical activity by walking for exercise.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

What are the health benefits of walking?

Walking as physical activity has many health benefits, such as:

How can I increase the amount of time I walk?

There are simple ways to build fitness and walk more. Start by walking around your house, on your street or at work. Start by setting small goals like walking around the block or to your local shops.

As you start to feel fitter, you can increase your effort and length of walk. Here are some tips:

  • If you take public transport, get off at an earlier stop than you need.
  • If you drive, park a little further away from where you need to go.
  • When you're at work, at a shopping centre or library take the stairs instead of the lift.
  • When you meet a friend, go for a walk instead of a coffee.

If you have a health condition, or had surgery recently, ask your doctor about when to start walking, and how much to walk. For example, if you have had a heart attack, your doctor might recommend starting by walking 5 to 10 minutes a day, and then build up slowly to 30 minutes a day.

What are different styles of walking?

There are many ways to walk for exercise. Some focus on speed, like brisk walking and power walking.

Another style is called Nordic walking where you use poles to help you.

You can also walk on a treadmill (for example, at a gym) where you can set the pace and the level of incline. This can be more comfortable than walking outdoors if it's hot or raining.

Walking a dog can be a fun way to motivate yourself to get walking. If you don't have a dog, ask a friend or neighbour with a dog if you can join them — they might also appreciate the company.

How do I avoid injury while walking?

Walking is a generally safe way to exercise, but it's still important to protect against injuries. It is important to warm up 5 minutes before you walk or exercise to help prevent injuries. A gentle warm up and some light stretching helps warm up your muscles and improves your flexibility. It is also good to get into the habit of cooling down for 5 minutes after an intense walk. This will also gently slow your heart rate.

The Heart Foundation has guides on ways to stretch and use strength exercises to support your walking.

Try to walk at a steady pace and with a good technique to prevent injuries. This means listening to your body, swinging your arms freely and standing as straight as you can while you walk.

Be sure to wear comfortable shoes that fit you well. Wearing thick cotton socks will also help prevent blisters.

Know the signs of a heart attack

If you experience any discomfort or tightness in your chest, shortness of breath, or dizziness while walking, stop, rest and get help. These are some of the symptoms of a heart attack.

If your symptoms are severe, worsening or last longer than 10 minutes, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. Don't hang up. Wait for the operator's instructions.

Do I need to see my doctor before I start walking?

If you are new to exercise, have a health condition or recently had surgery, speak with your doctor about how you can start walking for exercise.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How do I stay safe while walking?

There are many ways to stay safe while walking:

  • Be alert while walking on roads, especially if wearing headphones or using your phone.
  • Wear bright or reflective clothing so drivers can see you, especially at night or early mornings.
  • Follow road rules and signs.
  • Walk in pairs or small groups, especially at night.
  • Carry water to stay hydrated.
  • If you have heart disease, asthma or another medical condition that could be affected by physical activity, monitor your symptoms while you walk.
  • Always have your medicines with you. so you can take them as directed by your doctor if you need them. For example, if you're asthmatic and you use an asthma inhaler, you may need to keep it on you while you walk.

What equipment do I need for walking?

You do not need much equipment to go for a walk and while walking is essentially free, you will need good quality walking shoes. They will make your walk more comfortable and help prevent any injuries. Shoes don't need to be an expensive brand, they just need to be good quality and fit you well.

If you choose to do a style of walking like Nordic walking, you will need walking poles.

Prepare for the type of walk you set out to do. Don't forget a water bottle to stay hydrated. While outdoors always wear suitable clothing, including a hat, and apply sunscreen.

How do I stay motivated while walking?

Here are some tips to help you stay motivated:

  • Set a realistic goal — ask your doctor to help.
  • Take different walking routes to avoid boredom.
  • Reward yourself for your efforts.
  • Go easy on yourself if your motivation dips, and don't give up.
  • Walk with a friend, or join a walking group.
  • Download a tracking app to help you track your progress.

How do I find good walking tracks near me?

You can find walking tracks in your area online or with location finders on your state or territory government website:

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Last reviewed: November 2023

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