One thing in advance. Personally I believe, based on experience and study, that walking has to be one of the best exercises out there. Whether you’re interested in health, fitness, weight loss, or aging, not many things have as beneficial an effect as walking.
In fact, before trying to humiliate and belittle walking as exercise, let’s be noble and try to point out some of its good points.
As a general all-purpose exercise, walking IS one of the best. After all, it can …
- Help improve overall health through a multitude of beneficial results.
- Improve the strength, efficiency and capacity of the heart and lungs.
- Improve the efficiency of the body’s immune system.
- Reduce stress
- Improve the general emotional condition.
- Increase energy
- Delays some effects of the aging process.
- Helps maintain muscle tone and balance.
- It helps prevent osteoporosis
- Help in the control of diabetes.
Yes, it’s going to be hard to say bad things about walking.
After all, it is very easy to do and no real training or special equipment is needed. In fact, we’ve been doing it for all but a year of our lives, so what’s the problem? If it’s that good, why aren’t we all Olympic-class athletes and healthy as horses?
Well, our bodies were designed when we walked a lot more than today. Our ancestors, and I’m not talking about today’s grandmothers and grandfathers, of whom I am one, often had to walk miles on any given day to gather food or hunt it … hours and hours. Going from the living room sofa to the car, from the car to the office and vice versa, with a few trips to the refrigerator, does not count.
After all, how do we really spend our days? We sit in those cars, at desks, in front of televisions or computers, eat meals full of non-nutritious foods, and then go to bed.
Hey! Did you get up early this morning or did you go to bed late? That’s more time you have to burn calories, right? Incorrect. You may have pumped some cortisol into your bloodstream, and that will help you gain weight, but that’s another article.
The point is that we do not live as we should in terms of the amount of activity we need. Serious scientists have estimated that we need at least 30 minutes of somewhat strenuous activity EVERY DAY to experience high-level health benefits from walking or any other exercise. A few years ago, a study indicated that only about 20% of Americans met that goal.
And while walking is great exercise overall, it does have some drawbacks.
The first thing to eliminate is the “perfect” exercise. With all its health benefits, there are a few things you can’t do. Our bodies need to stretch almost daily. It doesn’t have to be vigorous or painful, but it does have to be regular. Walking cannot do that. We also need some resistance and weight-bearing exercises for the parts of the body where walking doesn’t work. Again, this doesn’t have to be incredibly exhausting, but it should happen on every part of the body a couple of times a week. In fact, many people divide their resistance exercises into upper and lower body, or some other division, doing a series of exercises one day alternating with the other. For example, I do dumbbell training for my upper body on Mondays and Thursdays and for my lower body on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Walking isn’t “perfect” either if you have a specific exercise goal that you just don’t address. For example, a tennis player may benefit from increased leg strength and endurance when walking, but will need to do other exercises to strengthen the arm and chest muscles to swing the racket.
Walking for health reasons should not only be regular, but also energetic. It may be necessary to warm up before an actual hike and for beginners it is almost certainly necessary to rack up those 30 minutes we were talking about. There are even experts who recommend 45 minutes a day, but 30 minutes a day should be the minimum.
Also, you DO need a good team. A good pair of walking shoes at a minimum and clothing suitable for the temperature and climate.
Whatever you do, by the way, get your doctor’s guidance and blessing before embarking on any exercise program.
So this is what you do. Get off to a gentle start on your new-you program and start walking every day. It can be in a mall, in a park, at the zoo, in the woods, along the coast … wherever! Then after you’ve given your body a few weeks to adjust and your mind a chance to realize that this is not bad and that you feel better than you used to, and once you have, I will Dare I say the word “exercise” is a part of your life, start with some extremely light weights and start doing resistance exercises a few times a week. Start stretching a little every day and you are good to go.
I’ve finished. I think I’ll go back to the pasture and go for a walk … if my neighbor’s goats don’t get through the fence again.
Hey! There is a thought. I think I’ll write an article on excuses for NOT exercising.