Walking is the Best Exercise of AllPosted: February 21, 2013
Why Walking Is the #1 Way to Exercise
Why do I feel compelled to share this message? Because I’ve noticed that more and more people seem to be doing hard-core workouts these days.
I have several friends, for example, who have recently signed up for CrossFit or other “boot camp” style exercise programs.
There also seem to be more infomercials on TV for extreme workout regimens such as P90X, the program made famous by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan last summer, and the INSANITY workout, which is so hard to do, its creators say, that it will “push you past your limits.”
Even on the TV show The Biggest Loser, the trainers have the contestants working out to the point that they’re literally falling off treadmills.
But is it really necessary to exert yourself in such an intense way to greatly improve your health and fitness? I think many people believe that the answer is yes—and for this reason, these people don’t exercise.
And that’s terrible!
Because in fact, the best exercise for most people is one that’s already quite familiar and quite enjoyable—and much less physically taxing than those sweat-till-you-puke workouts that some people are putting themselves through.
GET BACK TO BASICS
The exercise that I’m talking about is…walking! Look, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone his or her right to topple off a treadmill in exhaustion if that is what it takes to provide motivation. But when I recently spoke with Mark Fenton, MS, an adjunct associate professor in the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention at the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, author of two books on walking and the former host of the America’s Walking series on PBS television, I came away convinced that the simple activity of putting one foot in front of the other is the ideal exercise for most people. Here’s why…
You’re less likely to feel pain or get hurt. The reason is that you’re operating within a very natural range of motion for your body. “You’re not asking your muscles or joints to do anything that they’re not used to doing, and so the likelihood of soreness or injury is very low,” said Fenton. Plus, unlike running and other high-impact sports, walking is low-impact, so the load that you’re putting on your body’s joints when you walk is much less.
It’s convenient. Walking is such a flexible activity, said Fenton. You can do it anytime and anywhere. You don’t need a partner or teammates, as you do with tennis, basketball or soccer. It’s also easy to fit walking into a busy schedule because you don’t have to do the entire workout at once. “Unlike taking, say, a 30-minute fitness class, where you truly need to spend 30 consecutive minutes exercising, you don’t have to do 30 consecutive minutes of walking,” said Fenton. “You can break it up into three 10-minute walks and still get the benefit.”
It’s free. Perhaps best of all, you don’t need to pay for a personal trainer, fancy equipment, a gym membership or anything else. You just need a comfortable pair of shoes.
It’s suitable for any fitness level. If the last time you broke a sweat was in high school gym class, then walking is the perfect workout for you. For inspiration, just look at Michael Moore, the documentary filmmaker who is famous for (among other things) his, well, potato-like look. Even someone as overweight and out of shape as he is has been able to commit to walking—and has grown to love the activity. In fact, he shared on Facebook that he’s been walking 30 minutes a day, every day, since March 18 of last year, and that walking has had a healthy domino effect on his life, helping him sleep better, feel better and take better care of himself.
Walking is also great for people who are already moderately active. That’s because you can speed up your walks, walk uphill or walk for longer periods of time whenever you want to intensify the workout, Fenton pointed out.
What about people who are already quite active and fit—is walking good for them, too? Admittedly, if you’re already, say, an avid runner or tennis player, then a typical walk may not be enough of a workout to make you even fitter. But that describes a small fraction of people, said Fenton, and even those people could benefit from about one day a week of gentle walking to give their muscles a break—especially in the early stages of training for a race or tournament, when doing too much too soon is a common cause of injury. However, Fenton said, “Walking at high intensity is actually an effective workout for more fit individuals. For example, racewalkers cruising at six to 10 miles per hour—yes, a jogging pace for most people—burn as many calories as someone taking a jog. And elite racewalkers have aerobic fitness levels comparable to elite runners. So walking truly can take your fitness to any level.”
You’re more likely to stick with it. For all of the reasons above!
Source: Mark Fenton, MS, adjunct associate professor in the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Prevention at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy of Tufts University, Boston, and author of Pedometer Walking: Stepping Your Way to Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness (Lyons Press). He is a national public health, planning and transportation expert who advocates for and consults with local agencies to provide more bicycle-and pedestrian-friendly communities.