Whenever I think about power walking, I think of my mom, a woman who walks with pointed fingers stabbing through the air in front of her, legs marching forward at lightning speed. Walking with her always feels like running a marathon; she has one speed and one speed only—fast. I, on the other hand, have never mastered the subtle art of walking quickly. So to learn more about what power walking even is, and why it’s so beneficial to your body, I caught up with Eli Friedman, MD, medical director of sports cardiology at Baptist Health’s Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.
Below, Dr. Friedman breaks down power walking benefits, and how to know if you’re truly walking fast enough to consider yourself a “power walker.”
So, what is power walking?
“Power walking is similar to regular walking, but done with more intensity and at a faster pace,” says Dr. Friedman. “In other words, the number of strides per minute will increase and there may be more use of the upper body, specifically the arms, to propel the body forward. One might find that their breathing is harder and their heart rate is faster with power walking.” Simple as that.
While you don’t need to necessarily be watching your heart rate while you’re power walking, you can keep an eye on what the American Heart Association (AHA) calls your “target training zone,” or the heart rate that will maximize the benefits of your workout (more on those in just a sec). You can determine this zone by finding your maximum heart rate and multiplying that number by .85. But if you prefer to skip that step, the AHA has a handy table that will tell you what your training zone should be based on your age. For example, if you’re 35, your sweet spot is somewhere between 95 and162 beats per minute.
If you don’t feel like dealing with a wearable when you’re out and about, however, you can just feel it out. As Michael Weinrauch, MD, a New Jersey-based cardiologist, previously told Well+Good, you can measure your exertion by how much effort it takes to talk. “Typically, with moderate-intensity activity, you would be able to talk, but not sing the words to a favorite song. Similarly with vigorous-intensity activity, one would need to pause for a breath after uttering only a few words,” he explained.
Now that we have the basics, let’s talk about why you may want to pick up your pace next time you go for a stroll.
The benefits of power walking
Walking is one of those workout modalities that tends to get vastly underestimated, but Dr. Friedman’s ready to set things straight. (*Ahem*, he previously told Well+Good that walking’s benefits are “immeasurable.”)”Generally speaking, the more intense the activity, the more health benefits,” he says. “Compared to someone who walks at a casual pace, a power walker can expect lower blood pressure, heart rates, blood sugars, and cholesterol numbers.” A mountain of research has backed up these heart-healthy—and, thus, longevity-promoting—benefits of walking.
For example, one study of 13,535 nurses 70 years and older found that brisk walkers, women who clocked about three miles per hour, were 2.68 times more likely to age healthily than those who walked at a moderate pace.
The verdict on normal walking versus power walking
Let’s get one thing straight: both slow and fast walking feature their fair share of perks. Any walk is better than no walk at all, so if the pace is what’s stopping you from heading out the door and breathing in that good, good, fresh air, forget about the numbers on your watch. Just lace up your sneakers, and reap the heart-healthy, mood-boosting effects of putting one foot in front of the other. After all: Research shows that even 30 minutes of normal walking reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke, diminishes your risk of developing some cancers, and decreases your risk of falls. So go forth, power walkers and (slower) power walkers.
Want to track how your ticker responds to working out? Here’s how to monitor your heart rate while you’re on-the-go:
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