Four reasons why walking should be part of your fitness plan
As far back as I can remember, my dad walked every day. That was his fitness routine. He didn't lift weights. He didn't run or ride a bike. He just walked.
Though I can quibble about what was lacking in his fitness routine (try some weights or running, dad!) he was on to something. Walking is a crucial, yet often overlooked part of staying fit.
The best thing about walking? It's an easy, safe way to augment your fitness routine. You can do it with a friend or loved one. You can take your dog. And you can even break it up through out the day.
Not convinced? Here are four reasons why you should be.
1. Walking helps you control your weight
I've seen some people create some amazing body transformations, simply by adjusting their diets and taking on an aggressive walking plan. In my own personal life, I've noticed that when I walk more, in addition to my other fitness activities, I'm able to keep of the nagging pounds and take a few more liberties with my diet.
Unfortunately, in the United States, we don't embrace walking as much as other countries. We prefer our cars. And when you look at the data, it shows. Consider these statistics, cited in a Reuters article, from a 2010 study:
Adults in western Australia average 9,695 steps a day. The Swiss followed with 9,650, while the Japanese clocked in with 7,168 steps. But Americans straggled far behind with just 5,117 steps.
“We were surprised that the levels of physical activity were that low,” said Dr. David R. Bassett, of the University of Tennessee, the lead author of the study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
“Five thousand steps is really pretty inactive,” he added.
Bassett said Americans need to step up for another 30 to 40 minutes per day to shrink the fitness gap. One mile equals about 2000 steps.
Of course, the article goes on to compare obesity rates across the countries included in the study. The U.S.? 34 percent obesity rate. Australia, Japan and Switzerland? 16 percent, 3 percent and 8 percent.
So why is walking an effective exercise for maintaining weight? This article from the University of California in Los Angeles sums it up:
At low levels of prolonged exercise most energy needs come from fat and lesser energy needs come from carbohydrate. At higher intensity carbohydrate plays a greater role but is limited in its duration of action.
Translation: walking is low intensity, and your body use its fat stores to fuel low intensity exercise. So whether you're looking to lose weight or simply maintain a healthy weight, use the Australians, Japanese and Swiss as your role models: take a brisk walk.
2. Walking is good for your back
It's a given that walking is good for your heart, but it's also excellent for your back. I've learned this first hand. Around the onset of the pandemic, my lower back was bothering me, to the point it felt like my spine was popping all the time. This was the result of pushing myself too much with weight training and my running regimen. I also was sitting at my desk and staring at a computer all day long (with bad posture).
Around this time, I changed my fitness routine. I switched from running to cycling, I stopped lifting weights and started doing bodyweight fitness. But that wasn't all I did: I started walking more. I'd take multiple walks a day. Walk my dog a mile or two in the morning as a work break. Take another walk in the evening. All those steps add up over time! Three years later, and my back feels great.
But it's not just my experience. Numerous studies have looked at walking and its effects on lower back pain, and find evidence that it can be an effective part of a treatment routine for chronic back pain.
3. Walking can help you live longer
If a healthy weight and healthy back weren't enough reasons for you to start walking, consider the conclusions from this fascinating study:
This large study of device-assessed steps and all-cause mortality among older women showed that an average of approximately 4400 steps/d was significantly associated with lower mortality rates compared with approximately 2700 steps/d. More steps per day accrued were associated with steady declines in mortality rates up to approximately 7500 steps/d, beyond which rates leveled. Number of steps, rather than stepping intensity, was the step metric consistently related to lower mortality rates. These findings may serve as encouragement to the many sedentary individuals for whom 10 000 steps/d pose an unattainable goal.
As the study notes, many people have targeted 10,000 steps a day as their walking goal, driven by the onset of wearable fitness devices. But the researchers found that the women in this study who walked as few as 4,400 steps a day had lower mortality rates. That's right: the people who were walking less died more often.
My interpretation of their data is that at least 7,500 steps a day would provide a significant benefit, and that walking can help you live longer!
4. Walking is good for your mind
Last week, I had a stressful day at work, and I decided to use my lunch break to take a walk. We'd gotten a heavy soaking of rain the night before, and since it was hot and humid, I chose to walk through the woods near my house.
Despite the stress of my day, I was able to let go, and focus on being in nature. The forest felt alive after the rain...there weren't many people around, so I stopped on a small bridge and listened to the soothing sound of the water running down the hillside into the creek and the birds chirping in the trees above.
My break was only about 40 minutes, but it made a huge difference in my day. I came back refreshed and happy, ready to tackle a busy afternoon and get things done. This is an example of how walking can be beneficial for your mental health.
Whether it's a walk around your neighborhood, a jaunt through your local park, or a hike in the wilderness, walking provides a way for your to disconnect from technology, reconnect with nature and help your mind a peaceful break from the stress of modern life.
Did you know you can meditate while walking? There are plenty of walking meditations to be found online, or on apps like Calm and Headspace.