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  • Walk for Health

    By: Joann Bally CSCS

    For most of human history, walking was the main means of transportation. If you were a prehistoric person, walking was the way you went out to get your food, and the way you burned up a lot of the calories you ate. Nice balance, but those days are gone forever. Letís get over it and see how walking fits into todayís lifestyle.

    Walking is the most common form of exercise among adults. But it is really exercise? That depends. Letís look at three types of walking: transportation, incidental, and walking for its own sake (going for a walk).

    Incidental walking is walking required for something else youíre doing. For instance, you walk when you take out the trash at home or when you go down the hall to the copy machine at work. Letís use 10 minutes (all at once) as the dividing line between incidental walking and walking for transportation.

    Walking is indeed considered to be exercise by todayís standards, if you do enough of it. This is a change from earlier standards that required more vigorous activity, like running, to increase fitness. Walking will improve health, if not necessarily fitness. Regular walking will improve your cardiovascular function and help reduce blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease and stroke. It will help prevent type 2 diabetes, and can also help treat it. Walking can also help lower the risk of certain cancers. It can improve mental function and alleviate depression.

    How much walking is required to get these benefits? The government recommendations are at least 150 minutes a week. (Thirty minutes on five days will do it.) Ten minutes at a time is required for it to count, but this means if you want to walk 30 minutes on a given day, you can do it in three 10-minute sessions. How fast do you have to go? The recommendation is for ďbriskĒ walking. Brisk used to be 4 miles an hour (a mile in 15 minutes), but I have recently seen it defined as 20-minute miles or better (3 mph). I think this is a little slow and would like to see you do 17 or 18 minutes miles to qualify as brisk. If you canít go that fast now, just make sure you step out as best you can.

    Another common walking goal, instead of by time, is 10,000 steps a day. Incidental walking doesnít help you get the 150 or more minutes goal, but it will count toward 10,000 steps. Either 150 minutes or 10,000 steps qualifies as health-enhancing exercise.

    Walking, like other aerobic exercise, will help with weight management. To lose weight just by walking, you will have to do a lot more than these minimum recommendations. However, this much walking will help keep you from regaining weight you lose, and help prevent unwanted weight gain in the first place.

    Fitness includes aerobic/cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Often, though, fitness is used to refer only to cardio fitness, that is, the ability to utilize oxygen, called VO2max. Endurance athletes tend to have very high VO2max. The highest would be in elite marathon runners, cross country skiers, and Tour de France cyclists. For ordinary folks, improving VO2max provides more endurance and allows us to maintain activity longer, as well as doing some things like hiking that require a certain degree of cardio fitness. Besides, studies have indicated that people with higher cardio fitness tend to live longer than others, regardless of other health risk factors.

    Another reason to exercise for fitness, as well as health, is that some people just want to work harder. They want the competition, even with themselves, or just like the feeling. Running is clearly a fitness exercise, but other cardio exercise, like cycling, skating, aerobics, or rowing can give you a high degree of fitness, depending on the intensity you put into it.

    You can walk for fitness, as well as health. Basically, you have to walk faster or on more difficult terrain. You may have to learn racewalking technique. Wherever you are now in your exercise program, if walking is the exercise you like to do, you can use it to improve your fitness. But you should still walk some times just to smell the flowers.

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