Every year on January 1st, people across the world make the New Year’s Resolution to start working out and getting healthy. Gyms everywhere see a massive spike in enrollment, home fitness equipment has a boost in sales, and even running shoe stores need to hire extra employees to keep up with the crowds. And yet, in all this frenzy, barely anyone is walking. They’re running, jumping, cycling, swimming, and lifting but not walking. Not unless you count the steps they take to get from their car to the gym.
Walking is probably the most underrated form of exercise, and to a certain extent, that is with good reason. Technically we walk to get from one place to another. People tend to see it more as a necessary form of movement rather than a more deliberate one, which is done with the purpose of losing weight or becoming more fit. Because really, how can walking be exercise if it’s the same movement that you do to move from your desk to the vending machine down the hall from your office? You don’t sweat when you’re walking, you don’t burn extra calories, and you won’t be able to change your body shape. True? Maybe. But only if you’re doing it wrong. Walking can be one of the best forms of exercise, if only we can reframe how we approach it.
Just ask the experts. As any doctor or fitness professional will tell you, you have to walk before you can run. So, if you have never worked out before, or if you are recovering from an injury, surgery, or any other affliction, walking is the best place to start. You could also ask your dog. They are huge enthusiasts of “going for a walk,” and they might be on to something! So, let’s find out more!
In past decades and more so when you go back over the centuries, humans were much more active. Active because the sedentary lifestyles we now have were not conducive to life at that time. People walked to work, to church, to get food for their family, to visit friends. Children walked to school, often traveling long distances. No one used a treadmill or tried to walk faster or run. It was a simple activity meant to get you from point A to point B-but it worked. The rates of heart disease and strokes were minimal or even non-existent at some points. Obesity was rare, and Type 2 diabetes practically unheard of.
The Physical Benefits of Walking for Exercise
Walking has some incredible health benefits both on the physical and the mental side. It can be a very effective way to stay healthy and fit. Walking can improve all levels of fitness. It can even strengthen your muscles and joints in a gentle, low impact way. Walking can also help with posture, circulation, and be a general mood lifter.
Studies have shown that the energy used for walking at a moderate intensity level can reduce high blood pressure levels, cholesterol levels, and lower your risk for diabetes and heart disease. All of this is true of running as well just without the impact to the joints. And as compared to no exercise at all, a daily walk can drastically reduce your risks of stroke.
The Mental Benefits of Walking for Exercise
The physical benefits of walking are worth noting, but some other benefits are perhaps harder to see. Many people struggle with anxiety and depression, both of which can be helped by walking. Walking regularly, particularly if you do it outside, can help balance out mood swings and keep you in an overall happier mental state.
Walking can also be a positive for those looking to have a brighter, more creative mind. Researchers recognize walking as being able to enhance creative output. The term is called “divergent thinking,” and it refers to the thought process that creates ideas. The idea behind this is that walking allows the mind to open up to new possibilities and thereby helps to enhance creativity and problem-solving techniques. You can quickly test this out for yourself. The next time you have an issue to solve or something to create and you feel stuck. Get outside and go for a walk. The chances are that you will feel its effects and be able to come up with a solution to your problem more quickly than you would have had you stayed at your desk.
How Long Should Your Walk Be?
And here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Unlike spending an hour at the gym on the bike or lifting weights, a solid, beneficial walk can take as little as ten minutes out of your day. Those ten minutes can be as effective as a forty-five-minute intense workout in terms of relieving anxiety, stress, and general mental health mood enhancer. How those ten minutes compare on a physical level, of course, is different, however, that too also depends on your fitness level. Ideally, walking in nature is the best option. A park, local trail or even just a walk through the city can be a great choice. As your abilities increase, you can move that simple walk to a hike in the woods. On flat land or up and down a hill, walking is an excellent mental and physical form of exercise.
Okay, so let’s say that you live in a cold climate, and its winter. Sure, you could still go for a walk outside, but with the dangers of frostbite and slipping on the ice, the reality is that it might not be the best choice. In that case, a treadmill can be beneficial. But so can a running track. You don’t have to run on a track, and walking is just as good. However, if you want to keep a close eye on your progress, a treadmill does offer this ability.
Set your treadmill to a level 3 or 4, this is a nice slow pace that you can use as a warm-up. Ultimately though, it will be up to you to decide how quickly you’d like to up that pace. Just like when you are outside, and you choose to start slow, then lead up to a brisk walk, the same is true for the treadmill. Running on a treadmill and walking on one can yield similar results, as long as you continue playing with the levels so that you can get your heart rate up a little bit. Feel free to play with incline as well, as this simulates walking up and downhills. Then, of course, you can play with your stride-short, brisk strides vs longer, slower ones will work different muscles and help to burn fat in different ways.
The Treadmill Incline
When using the incline feature on the treadmill, you must first understand the benefits of it. The incline feature is a great way to simulate the outdoors. Its benefits include a more intense workout that forces your body to accommodate the strain by making your glutes, quads, and calves all work much harder. Even if you are walking, this feature will yield the same results as leg weights, squats, and lifts -if used regularly. When you increase the amount of energy it takes to complete the task, you burn more calories and potentially burn more fat.
The incline feature on a treadmill is also a great option for anyone who is recovering from injury or other issues. Running can place a lot of strain on the joints, as does any high impact exercise. Walking on an incline, however, gives you the same results but without the impact of pain and destruction.
Just be sure not to hold on to the sides of the treadmill. Make sure your pace is safe and manageable for you and then let go. Holding on the entire time will remove a lot of the muscle engagement and energy needed to maintain that particular pace.
Intervals on the Treadmill
Another way to get the most out of your walk is to do interval training. This can be done outside on the pavement, on the trail, or inside on the treadmill. Short intervals of faster pace walking, followed by more extended periods of slower walking, move your heart rate up and down and maximizes your strength as well as cardiovascular endurance.
The following is an excellent way to time your intervals:
- Five minutes at a comfortable speed with no incline (basic warm-up)
- Raise incline to five percent for three minutes, keep the speed the same (after a while then increase speed here but not when you are first starting)
- Back to zero incline and use this as a rest for one minute, keeping the same speed
- Repeat for three to five rounds and adjust as needed. Eventually making the incline time longer and the rest time shorter. It’s more about longevity than speed. A marathon not a sprint.
Adding Weights to Your Walk
Another technique that can help you add a little extra to your walk is weights. Again, it is not necessary, nor is it recommended to start like this. Walking alone is a great workout. However, if and when you are looking for more, then weights are a good choice.
Adding weights will keep your heart rate up and add a little extra strength training to your workout. You can hold small weights, get ankle or wrist weights that stay fastened to your body, or do a few simple weight exercises as you walk. Dumbbell shoulder presses or jabs are great ways to tone the arms as you walk. Another option is to intersperse your walking with free weights off the treadmill. Essentially, you can make your workout perfectly tailored to fit you, no matter what level you are at. And it doesn’t even have to be weights. A backpack of books of water bottles will do the trick too! Juice bottles, heavy cans -whatever is comfortable. If you have your treadmill at home, then any household item will do if it is the right weight. Just be careful and make sure that it is indeed something that you will not drop on your foot and hurt yourself with.
Give an Extra Mental Boost to Your Walk
Although walking itself will give you multiple mental health benefits, adding a little extra can’t hurt. Simply make some great playlists and pop in those earbuds. Fast, upbeat songs, songs from your favorite decade or the year you graduate high school are all great music choices for inclines. Slower songs work well for the rest part of intervals, and be sure to throw in a few of your most motivational songs for those moments when you decide to up your pace and speed walk!
If speed walking in an actual sport and an Olympic one at that, then for sure, walking is an excellent way to spend your time exercising! No more delays! Walk your way into health today!