Walking is an accessible form of exercise for most people. But how fast should you walk to maximize the health benefits? Here are the facts.
If you regularly walk around the neighborhood, track, or local mall, you know walking can be a fun, stress-relieving form of exercise.
Natasha Trentacosta, MD, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, says walking is also great for your heart and bones.
Walking at any speed can boost your mood and reduce your risk of dementia, too, adds David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Of course, not everyone walks the same way. Maybe you’ve wondered whether the leisurely loper next door reaps as many health benefits as the power walker across the street.
Here’s what you should know about the average adult walking speed, whether your pace matters, and how to leverage your walking speed for weight loss.
What is the average walking speed for adults?
Walking speed can be a helpful, but imperfect, indicator of a person’s health. The ability to walk briskly for a sustained length of time demonstrates good balance, cardiovascular function, and a healthy fitness level.
But Steve Stonehouse, a NASM-certified certified trainer based in Irvine, California, and director of education for fitness studio STRIDE, says intensity—the amount of effort you’re putting forth—matters most.
In other words, walking 2 miles per hour uphill could benefit your heart more than walking 3 miles per hour downhill.
One study of 358 adults published by the scientific journal PLOS One evaluated the relationship between walking speed, sex, and age. Researchers calculated the following average walking speeds for adults.
Average miles per hour (MPH)
3.0 (women) to 3.4 (men)
3.0 (women) to 3.2 (men)
3.11 (women) to 3.2 (men)
2.93 (women) to 3.2 (men)
2.77 (women) to 3.0 (men)
2.53 (women) to 2.82 (men)
2.10 (women) to 2.17 (men)
(Related: 14 Benefits of Walking for Just 15 Minutes)
What does your walking speed say about your health?
It’s helpful to aim for an average or above-average walking speed, but personal circumstances make a difference in what is healthy or normal for you. For instance, a 30-year-old, 6-foot-5 man likely walks more quickly than a 90-year-old, 4-foot-5 woman.
Terrain matters, too. You probably walk more slowly on sand or along a rocky trail than on a smooth sidewalk—yet heart rate elevation happens in either situation. The same goes for flat versus hilly landscapes. Health experts say your exertion and sustained activity are far more important than your speed.
In the end, your pace doesn’t say much about your health if you’re only walking between your car and the front door. A brisk walking speed only matters if you’re able to sustain it.
Regardless of speed, “staying busy and reaching an activity target like 10,000 steps a day can reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even depression,” Stonehouse notes.
What’s the difference between average walking, speed walking, and power walking?
There are no official definitions for walking styles like speed walking or power walking. But most fitness experts agree speed walking refers to brisk walking. And power walking involves speed walking with additional upper body movement.
In a 2012 research study published in Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, power walking is described as, “a fast walking exercise done at a speed of 6 to 8 km/h (3.7 to 5 miles per hour) with … the elbow joints bent to 90 degrees to actively swing back and forth during movement.”
How fast should you walk for general wellness?
The choice is yours! You don’t have to speed walk or power walk to experience the health benefits of walking. Cutler says a 10-minute stroll at any pace can soothe anxiety and improve your mood. Take your walk outdoors for even more of a lift—communing with nature is one of the best daily rituals to improve your mental health.
Cutler says there are two things to remember about walking for good health: First, a short walk is better than no walk at all. And second, the more you walk, the more benefits you’ll see.
(Related: The Best Walking Workout for Older People)
How fast should you walk for cardiovascular fitness?
There is no perfect walking speed for cardiovascular benefits. Your ideal speed will depend on your height, fitness level, and age. Start by walking at least 2.5 miles per hour, according to Cutler.
“To get an efficient and effective cardio workout, you want to make sure you’re getting your heart rate up,” Trentacosta adds. If you don’t have a smartwatch or treadmill with a heart rate monitor, she offers an easy way to tell when you’re in the optimal zone: “You want to be able to talk and speak, but not sing,” she says.
How fast should you walk for weight loss?
Experts agree you should vary your speed and intensity if you’re walking for weight loss. “Incorporate intervals,” Trentacosta says. “Change the speed; change the incline.” Bursts of intense walking or ascending sharp inclines will raise your heart rate and help your body burn more calories.
A 30-minute walk at a consistent speed will burn fewer calories than a 30-minute walk of varying intensity, says Cutler, who notes that controlling your appetite is also vital for healthy weight loss.
Sample walking workout for weight loss
“Weight loss will essentially come down to calorie expenditure, and walking will help you burn more calories,” Stonehouse says. He suggests walking enough to burn about 500 additional calories per day, which he equates to losing “a minimum of 1 pound per week just from the added walking.”
Here is his recommendation for a 33-minute outdoor interval walk for weight loss. Notice the emphasis is on exertion and time rather than speed.
- 10 minutes easy strolling to warm up
- 2 minutes walking at an intense pace (“Charge those hills!” he says.)
- 4 minutes walking at a recovery pace (remember: slow enough to speak, too fast to sing)
- 3 minutes walking at an intense pace
- 3 minutes walking at a recovery pace
- 4 minutes walking at an intense pace
- 2 minutes walking at a recovery pace
- 5 minutes easy strolling to cool down
(Related: 11 Easy Ways to Make Walking More Fun)
Tips to boost the health benefits of walking
Short on time? Even just 15 minutes of daily walking can reap health benefits. If you already take a daily walk, there are small ways to make your walk even healthier.
Find a buddy
“Taking someone along is good motivation and a check to keep you in line,” Trentacosta says.
Walk after eating
A post-meal stroll could help prevent blood sugar spikes.
Track your progress
Use a pedometer, FitBit, or another tracker to fuel motivation to add more steps to your day.
Find varied terrains
“When walking uphill, shorten your stride and charge up those hills. Remember, hill work is strength training for walkers,” Stonehouse says.
Listen to an upbeat playlist
Music can make interval walking fun. It can also help you speed up your average pace, according to 2021 research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Try Nordic walking
This full-body walking style includes the use of walking sticks or poles. Nordic walking is a safe way to walk in winter.
Invest in supportive footwear
Whether you’re hiking or mall walking, avoid the common walking mistake of not wearing the right footwear. Your back and joints will thank you.