Saturday, February 20, 2010

Walking Is Great Exercise- Another Myth Exploded

In an effort to get a sedentary public moving, magazines, doctors and others often recommend walking as exercise. Walking doesn't cost anything, most everyone can do it and it has a low risk of injury. Too bad it doesn't do much.

As reported in the June 2009 edition of The Physician and Sports Medicine, walking alone does not result in enough physiologic stress to be considered a significantly beneficial exercise.

Our bodies need to be challenged. They adapt to the stress you apply to them. That's why if you're lifting the same weights or running the same 2 miles in the same amount of time that you were a month ago, you are actually getting less benefit (and burning fewer calories). As your body gets stronger and more fit, you need to increase the challenge.

Walking is not the be-all end-all exercise that so many tout it to be. In fact, according to research, people who continually walk as exercise typically lose 4 to 6 pounds of lean muscle mass. That's really bad!

Less muscle means less strength; less strength means everyday life is harder than it needs to be. Many of the characteristics associated with old age are actually the result of loss of strength due to the lack of strength training, which results in loss of muscle.

Regular walkers also experience a reduction in their resting metabolism of 2 to 3 % each decade.

The loss of lean muscle and the metabolic slowdown in walkers are close to those found in completely sedentary individuals. This means that if walking is the most physically demanding stress an individual experiences, there is not enough of a physiologic challenge for the body to positively adapt. In other words, no results.

As we age, without the right type of regular exercise, we experience musculoskeletal and metabolic deterioration. To offset that process you need to work at a level that stimulates the body to improve.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't walk. Some individuals use walking as a stress release, to plan their day, to brainstorm or to think through problems. I think walking can be a great activity on your off-days (along with riding bike, recreational sports, dancing, etc.). Just make sure to incorporate 3 days a week of challenging exercise including strength training and cardio intervals or metabolic resistance circuits.

(If you're a competitive power walker please don't leave a nasty comment or send me an irate email. Obviously, that's not the type of walking the researchers are talking about.)


Madam Z said...

My comment will not be either irate or nasty, just a bit bewildered. I find it difficult to believe that walking is no better for your health than being completely sedentary. Of course, it's important to add strength training to your routine as well. But I don't believe it's an "either/or" proposition. Walking burns more calories than sitting! Walking exercises leg muscles more than sitting. I have always felt that it makes more sense to walk to the gym than it does to drive to the gym. On the days I don't go to the gym, I feel positive that I will be healthier if I walk briskly 3 or 4 miles a day, rather than sit around all day.

The way this article reads (before you get to the final paragraph), it sounds like walking is HARMFUL to one's health! I suppose the point is to say that one should not depend on walking alone to be fit. But since most people are not going to work out with weights and other strength training routines, no matter what research tells them, I see no point in discouraging them from walking.

P.S. This is too funny! The first four letters of my word verification are "stfu!"

Mickey said...


I would disagree that I insinuated that walking was harmful. The entire point of the article was to let people know that, contrary to popular opinion, walking alone does not result in enough physical stress to be considered a SIGNIFICANTLY beneficial exercise.

Although I would agree that walking is better than nothing, too many people mistakenly believe that walking will result in considerable health / weight loss benefits. However, unless someone is extremely sedentary, that's just not the case.

If walking was good exercise for the leg muscles, walkers wouldn't typically lose 4 to 6 pound of lean muscle mass. Walking simply does not result in enough stimulus to maintain muscle.

My guess would be that's the same reason walkers experienced slower metabolism - the loss of muscle over the years.

As I said in my post, I think walking can be a good off-day activity. It's just not challenging enough for most people to provide the results they're looking for.