Walking a mile a day doesn't sound like an overwhelming goal — and for somebody who is just starting out on their journey to physical fitness, it's an easy, achievable minimum to shoot for. But in most cases, your long-term fitness plan should require a little more. Here's why.
It depends on your goals. For older adults or sedentary people aiming to start a fitness plan, walking a mile a day might be enough. For other individuals, 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week is the recommended minimum, which is likely more than 1 mile a day.
Read more: Recommended Walking Distances
Is Walking a Mile Enough?
The Physical Guidelines for Americans put out by the Department of Health and Human Services states that adults should get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week or between 75 and 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, ideally spread out across several days.
If you break down 150 minutes of moderate activity a day by seven days, that would be approximately 21 minutes a day. If you are walking about 3 miles per hour (or a little more slowly), then it would take you about that amount of time to walk a mile.
But walking at that pace, while still physical activity, might not constitute moderate intensity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, walking at a brisk or fast pace is what constitutes moderate intensity. For many people, this would require walking at a faster pace than 3 miles per hour. You should be going fast enough that your heart rate increases and you start to sweat, per the definition of the CDC.
If you increase your pace to 3.5 miles per hour, then walking at this speed could constitute moderate aerobic activity — but it would also mean that you complete your 1-mile workout in 17 minutes. You would need to spend more time than 17 minutes a day to meet your 150-minute minimum. Instead of walking a mile a day, a better option would be walking 2 or 3 miles a day.
Additionally, per the Physical Guidelines for Americans, you should also include some muscle-strengthening exercises in your weekly routine. Although aerobic activity is great for your heart and lungs, you should do a moderate to intense resistance workout twice a week that works all major muscle groups as a way of building or maintaining strength.
The exception to this might be older adults, for whom walking 1 mile could be adequate, according to the findings of a September 2017 study published in Health Promotion Perspectives. The study looked at a small group of 15 men and 10 women, and it found that walking 1 mile at a "fast and constant pace" required enough effort from them to meet the standards recommended by public health guidelines.
Benefits of Walking a Mile
This isn't to say that there are no health benefits of walking a mile — far from it! As the Mayo Clinic states, a little bit of exercise is better than none at all. And you can allow your minutes of physical activity to accumulate throughout the day — meaning if you are walking a mile a day in the morning and doing rigorous yard work in the afternoon, followed by calisthenics in the evenings, those would count toward your daily amount of physical activity. Aim for 30 minutes a day; however, if you're trying to lose weight, you might need to do a little bit more.
That's because walking a mile a day doesn't burn too many calories. The USDA estimates that a 154-pound individual would burn 140 calories of walking at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour for 30 minutes. This means that person would actually be walking about 1.75 miles to burn those 140 calories. A person walking a shorter distance or for less time would expend even less energy. Those who are aiming to lose weight are often advised to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories a day through diet and exercise to lose 1 pound a week.
But walking is a workout that does have many benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular brisk walking is good for weight maintenance, prevention of chronic conditions, bone strength, muscle strength, mood improvement, and balance and coordination improvement. And as seen in a September 2010 study published by the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, even a small increase in the amount that a person is walking improves their health, particularly for those who are sedentary.
These are all great reasons to start walking. If a leisurely 1-mile walk feels strenuous in the beginning, keep working at it. Soon you'll be in better shape and adding more physical activity to your routine.
- Department of Health and Human Services: “Physical Guidelines for Americans”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Physical Activity”
- USDA: “Physical Activity Calories Burn”
- The Mayo Clinic: “Walking: Trim Your Waistline, Improve Your Health”
- The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences: “Health Benefits of Increased Walking for Sedentary, Generally Healthy Older Adults: Using Longitudinal Data to Approximate an Intervention Trial”
- Health Promotion Perspectives: "The Metabolic Equivalents of One-Mile Walking by Older Adults"
- The Mayo Clinic: "Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in One Hour"