Walking and Health

How good for your health is walking? How much walking should you do? What if you have a health condition or are a wheelchair user? Can apps help?

In this article, we look at how we can reap the benefits of walking regularly, the kind of walking that’s best for us, and how to find and take opportunities for walking:

  • Walk or run?
  • The many health benefits of walking
  • How much walking should I do?
  • The benefits of joining a walking group
  • What if I have a health condition?
  • How much walking should I do?
  • ‘Walking for Health’ programmes
  • What if I don’t have time?
  • Does a pedometer or mobile app help?
  • Conclusions

Walk or run?

Both have health benefits. Walking has the advantage that you’re less likely to get sweaty – and so it is easier to fit into your daily life – there’s a lower risk of injury, and there’s less pressure on your knees, hips and other joints.

But bigger benefits come when you begin walking faster, as this raises your heart rate and breathing rate. In other words, faster walking raises the intensity of aerobic activity, with all the positive effects that has on your health and fitness.

The many health benefits of walking

It is well known that regular exercise helps us to keep healthy. Age UK describes walking as ‘the near-perfect exercise’, especially as we grow older and are less active.

Walking can provide a range of health benefits, for the price of a good pair of shoes and some outdoor clothing – which you may already have.

A stronger heart

The American Heart Association reports there’s a wealth of evidence showing walking improves heart and brain health and helps people live longer

It suggests using the acronym FIT to help people remember the important components of a good walking program – Frequency, Intensity and Time.

Walking can provide a range of health benefits, for the price of a good pair of shoes and some outdoor clothing – which you may already have.

Reduced risk of cancer

A large US study, published in 2016, analysed data on 1.44 million participants. It concluded that high versus low levels of leisure-time physical activity were associated with lower risks of 13 cancers, including liver, kidney, colon, bladder and breast cancer. 

Reduced symptoms of Depression

A 2018 study evaluated the benefits of a 100-day 10,000 step challenge on the mental health and wellbeing of 1,963 participants. It found significant improvements in mental health outcomes, including depressive symptoms, anxiety, stress and overall wellbeing following the 100-day steps challenge, noting that the targets reached may be less important than participation itself. 

Helps protect against cognitive decline

Research published in 2021 explored the impact of brisk walking on cognitive decline in adults. It noted that evidence continues to build to support the value of regular physical exercise as an affordable dementia risk reduction intervention for cognitively healthy older adults.

The research itself concluded that its findings contribute further evidence that regular participation in exercise of at least moderate intensity offers benefit to major aspects of cognitive function in both healthy aging individuals and those at the pre-clinical stages of cognitive decline.

Improving your chances of living longer

A US study followed 2110 adults over nearly eleven years. The results, published in 2021, indicated that participants taking at least 7000 steps per day, compared with those taking fewer than 7000 steps per day, had a 50% to 70% lower risk of mortality. 

How much walking should I do?

For people aged 19 to 64, the NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. That’s equivalent to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week – and brisk walking is one way of achieving this. This is a good target if you’re short of time.

However, walking has been described as “near perfect exercise” and has been proven to have a range of health benefits. So, if you have more time then you could consider a more ambitious target like 10,000 steps (or about 5 miles) a day.

Research from the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity suggests that 10,000 steps is “a reasonable target” for healthy adults.

The figure of 10,000 steps was probably chosen for being memorable rather than particularly evidence-based. A meta-analysis of 15 different studies, published in 2021, suggested optimum health benefits from:

  • 8,000- 10,000 steps per day for adults aged under 60.
  • 6,000- 8,000 steps per day for adults aged 60 or older.

It concluded, Taking more steps per day was associated with a progressively lower risk of all-cause mortality, up to a level that varied by age.”

The benefits of joining a walking group

Joining a walking group has a number of advantages. The social interaction and being part of a group means you are probably more likely to keep walking on a regular basis. 

2018 review of 42 published studies concluded that outdoor walking groups have, “wide-ranging health benefits. With low levels of attrition, high levels of adherence and virtually no adverse effects”.

The health benefits of joining an outdoor walking group include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower body fat
  • Lower Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Lower cholesterol
  • A reduced risk of depression
  • Making you stronger and healthier  

What if I have a health condition?

Check with your doctor first but, in general, walking/exercise is now seen as beneficial for a range of medical conditions, including cancer.

You may find it is difficult to get started or to stay motivated - particularly if you have a health condition or are overweight. However,  there may be help available near you. The Walking for Health programme is free and specifically designed for people who don’t take much exercise. It provides regular short, graded walks over easy terrain with trained walk leaders.

There are now hundreds of local schemes across England, attracting over 70,000 regular walkers.

Walking for Health

A 2016 evaluation of the Walking for Health Programme found that taking part in the programme improved general mental health, reduced loneliness and improved social interaction.

Walking for Health advises, ‘The combination of outdoor exercise and social interaction is good for everyone’s health and wellbeing. Activities like health walks are especially beneficial for those with long term health conditions. For example, physical activity can help manage some of the debilitating consequences of cancer treatment, and can even help reduce the chance of some cancers coming back.’

If you’re a wheelchair user or caring for a wheelchair user, you can find many suitable walks on national and regional websites. For example:

If you’re feeling more ambitious 

For longer or more challenging walks you might also look at:

  • Walk4Life maps, which show interesting local walks
  • the main Ramblers website for a range of walking resources, including paths and routes, parks and countryside and walking events.

What if I don’t have time? 

You may not have time for a four mile hike every day. But you probably have a range of opportunities to walk short distances every day. For example you can: 

  • Get off the bus a stop or two earlier and walk the rest of the way
  • Walk your children to primary school rather than taking the car
  • Walk to the local shops instead of driving
  • Take the stairs rather than the lift while at work
  • Walk up escalators in shopping centres and Tube stations
  • Take a ten-minute walk during your lunch break (especially if there’s a park or garden near where you work)
  • Have a short walk with family or friends after dinner
  • Use the interactive urban walk planner Walkit(available as a mobile phone app) to help you find the best walking route between two points in the UK’s major cities. 

Does a pedometer or mobile app help?

Pedometers measure how many steps you take during the day. Some research has found the use of one “is associated with significant increases in physical activity and significant decreases in body mass index and blood pressure’’ although whether these changes are durable over the long term isn’t yet known.

A small 2018 study with individuals who had sedentary lifestyles, found that following a 12-week pedometer-based walking programme (of at least 10,000 steps per day), lowered blood pressure, lowered blood glucose levels, reduced BMI and waist circumference and lowered heart rate. 

Should I buy a pedomter/step counter?

If you want to achieve the 10,000 target then the NHS suggests buying a pedometer and gradually building up your daily step count. In addition “an emergent body of evidence suggests that pedometer-determined physical activity is related to a number of cardiovascular health outcomes.”

Health apps 

There are thousands of mobile health apps on the market - including wearable technology - that is aimed at monitoring your health and collecting relevant data. Over time research is likely to become available on the effectiveness of those focusing specifically on walking.

Tips from the NHS to maintain motivation and keep walking regularly include listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks, and social interaction, as well as a variety of routes/walking paths to keep the activity interesting. 


  • Walking is free and has many health benefits.
  • 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is a useful target – more if you can.
  • 10,000 steps a day is a bit of an arbitrary target but, in general, the more steps (up to about 10,000 a day) the better for your health.
  • If time is short there are many ways you can fit short walks into your daily life.
  • If you have a health condition check with your doctor but you’re likely to find walking is seen as helpful.
  • Pedometers and apps can help you check how far you’re walking and some people find this motivating.

Reviewed and updated by Harrison Prince, January 2024. Next review due December 2027.