I perform a lot of one on one health and fitness consultations for our corporate clients. There is one thing in particular that comes up all the time that drives me a little crazy. Walking.
When I am talking to someone new I need to know what their current activity consists of, what they think they should be doing from an activity perspective, and what they can see themselves pursuing for physical activity.
At least a few time a week I am told that the person is going to start walking or has already started walking. Even more entertaining for me is when I am told that they started walking for fitness but they no longer do. Why is that entertaining? Because this is a great example of the inability of walking as a primary exercise source to make you healthier and keep you healthy for the rest of your life!
Your going to start walking? When did you stop walking? Don’t you already walk all the time everyday? When you go to the kitchen, go to your car, go to the bathroom, or go pretty much anywhere else during the course of your day?
This mindset is the same as people going to the gym and using 5 pound weights right before they pop over to the grocery store and life up 20 pound grocery bags. What was the point of the weight training?
I know, walking is better then sitting your lazy butt on the couch. I agree. As a fitness professional it is my job to educate people what the best options are, however, and to not be satisfied with mediocrity with relation to the public health.
Walking is not a good exercise program. It does not build strength well, it does not improve your cardiovascular fitness very well, it does not improve your body’s biomechanics, and it is not a very good calorie burner.
Yes, walking is better for you then sitting on the couch or riding around in one of those motorized chairs that were originally designed for injured and debilitated people and are now used for pacifying a lot of lazy people.
And before you get too stressed about my last paragraphs, I do recognize that there are benefits to walking. For people who are totally sedentary and need to initiate an exercise program getting walking will provide benefits for the first few weeks. The key is that we need to challenge the body further and not rely solely on walking for exercise.
Let’s go through the list:
Strength: Walking is endurance based, not strength based. You will not build a lot of strength walking. In order to build strength you need to move your muscles through their full range of motion and be working the muscles through resistance.
Cardiovascular Health: Walking is not a good cardio exercise. It does not elevate the heart rate very much, especially for already moderately active people. If you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness you need to challenge it. If you are not breathing hard and sweating you are not working hard to make improvements to your cardio system.
Your Bodies Biomechanics: This is simply a fancy term for the way your body is supposed to move. Your joints and muscle are designed to work through full ranges of motion and full movement ranges. Essentially, you should be able to squat down and touch your butt to your heels and you should be able to do a pushup and get your chest to the floor (a little generalized but this is a blog, not a textbook!).
Walking does not force your body to work through this full range of motion. After a long enough period of time with improper movement patterns your body begins to lose the ability to maintain those patterns. Muscles begin to shorten and tighten, joints lose their flexibility, and balance and coordination begins to decrease.
Calorie Burn: You are not going to burn many calories walking, at least not compared to walking up stairs, hiking, playing tennis, swimming, or any other host of activities. Sure, you will burn more then you would if you sat on the couch, but we have already discussed that.
Walking is not a fitness program. It is a safety net. It is in your life to get you places and to stop you from becoming so sedentary that your body shuts down.
When you want to start a fitness program you do not start walking. Try rock climbing, mountain biking, swimming, pushups, hiking, martial arts, strength based yoga. Move your body, breath hard, challenge your muscles, work your body!
You should already be walking.