Have you ever wondered if you really need to do intense aerobic exercise to have a healthy lifestyle or can you just walk to remain in shape? There is a common misconception that people must engage in some form of vigorous cardiorespiratory training to get fit. Walking, at times, compared to high intensity cardiovascular training, may be seen as an inferior activity. However, walking is a safe cardiorespiratory training style and can have essentially the same benefits as any high intensity cardiorespiratory training.
Why is walking so effective and so popular? Research has shown that walking is the number one form of exercise participation. About 30% of people choose walking as their primary mode of exercise (Steinhilber, 2017). Walking programs also increase the chance that you will choose to participate in additional types of exercise. The main reason behind the popularity of walking is that it is adaptable, meaning you can adjust it to fit your needs. Walking is like a Dr. Seuss book…you can walk fast, you can walk slow, you can walk high, you can walk low. You can walk here, you can walk there, you can walk anywhere! Not only is walking simple to do but there are long term physical and psychological benefits as well.
Walking has been shown to have several psychological benefits as well as disease prevention benefits. Walking may elevate your mood by increasing the release of dopamine and serotonin. These hormones are why you feel so great after a walk or any aerobic activity! Walking may reduce feelings of depression, help your mind to rest so you can sleep better at night, improve your confidence, and help you manage your stress. From a disease prevention standpoint, walking has been shown to decrease the risk for dementia, improve stiffness and inflammation of joints, and it may even lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Walking also increases blood flow to your brain and your muscles. The result of this effect may help you maintain muscle mass as well as increase oxygen to your brain to increase cognitive ability.
Is there a correct or incorrect way to walk? Sounds like a silly question since you have been walking since you were a baby, but yes, there is a correct way to walk. Ideally, we strike our foot from the heel and roll through to the toe with our arms bent at about a 90 degree angle. There is also necessity for coordination between our upper and lower body for stabilization to be able to walk efficiently as possible. We need to be able to adapt to different surfaces that we are walking on such as the sand versus the dirt or concrete. These surfaces are all different and require the body to recruit muscles differently to maintain stability while moving forward, and for this reason, we must train our upper and lower body to be in conjunction. A decent arm swing is recommended to incorporate the entire body and increase the number of calories burned! We must also pay attention to keeping our chest and torso upright to maintain good posture and efficient walking.
Because of this need to adapt, walking can be compared to other fitness-involved modes of exercise. When thinking of the best activities to burn calories, high intensity training will most likely come to mind. However, it can be quite the opposite. Low intensity steady state (walking) cardiovascular activities actually may be more effective in the long run for a lot of people. The main difference we see between high and low intensity aerobic exercise is the time that it takes to do it! With lower intensity exercise, people tend to continue it because it is a sustainable workout. Not only will people continue to see results, but it is not overwhelmingly challenging and can be performed with others of varying fitness levels. Walking can offer the same amount of progress, with due time and dedication put into your workouts, as high intensity cardiovascular workouts can offer.
How effective is walking at burning calories? The number of calories that you burn during a walk is dependent upon your weight, not your speed! For example, about 100 calories are burned for a 180-pound person and 65 calories per mile are burned for a 120-pound person (Bumgardner, 2019). So, caloric expenditure comes down to your weight plus the mileage you put in on a weekly basis. Let’s do the math…. if you can walk just about ONE hour per day (roughly 3-4 miles), you can lose about a half pound a week! How? Because if you are burning an extra roughly 250 calories per day, that adds up to 1750 calories burned on a week or ½ a pound. You need to burn an extra 3500 calories to lose ONE pound of fat. So you are losing .5 pounds a week and making your heart stronger, only walking for one hour out of your day.
Here are two sample walking programs to get you started or to challenge your current walking program!
Walk on flat ground for this program
Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
· 0-2 = light intensity, walking at a leisurely pace. Should be able to have a light conversation while maintaining this intensity.
· 3-6 = moderate intensity, jogging, walking briskly, or speed walking. Breathing becomes harder, and begins to take over the ability to talk.
· 7-10= vigorous intensity, running. Talking becomes nearly impossible or very challenging. Must focus on breathing and exercising.
(for someone walking about 12 miles a week already)
*Intervals = walk at RPE 8 for .5 miles, then .25 miles regular walking.
Bumgardner, W. (2019, December 12). How Many Calories Do You Burn Walking a Mile?https://www.verywellfit.com/walking-calories-burned-by-miles-3887154.
Richard, N. (2017, March 16). How to Use the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale. https://www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/home/blog/how-use-rate-perceived-exertion-scale.
Ryerson, I. (2019, March 18). How Walking Helps Your Brain. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://www.neurocorecenters.com/blog/how-walking-helps-your-brain
Steinhilber, B. (2020, August 3). Why walking is the most underrated form of exercise. NBCNews.com. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-walking-most-underrated-form-exercise-ncna797271.
Jaden Boone, B.S. is a passionate fitness advocate and a NASM Certified Personal Trainer with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Kinesiology, option Fitness from Long Beach State.