Walking: Beginner to Pro

Want to feel better, look sexier, and live longer? Walk more. As health advice goes, it’s not exactly earth shattering. But it’s often ignored.

As a species, walking is what we do best. In fact, it’s probably how your ancestors got from Africa to where they eventually settled. The standardized movement guidelines of thirty minutes per day are based on the dramatic benefits that walking can have on your health, yet nobody seems to do it. For the average time-poor person, the fundamental movement pattern of walking is frequently shunned in favor of more intense forms of exercise. However, the beneficial effects of walking on health are multiple and far-reaching.

This is the second of my articles detailing why The Great Upside-Down Movement Pyramid can be your one-stop framework for lifelong health. In this piece, I’ll cover why now that you’re sitting less, you should start walking more.

Calming the Fires

Modern-day living doesn’t seem to be geared towards providing optimal health. The combination of the daily grind, the food we eat, and our need to stay in one place to work all day have all been linked to increased inflammation, and through that, the rising rates of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Sadly, we can’t all change our jobs and live off the land. Instead of resorting to pills and antioxidant concoctions that may undo some of your good work, starting to move more by increasing walking is the best step towards reversing some of those issues.

Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, also increases your ability to handle oxidative damage.This makes movement both an anti-inflammatory, and an antioxidant.”

When we move our muscles, signaling molecules (often referred to as myokines) are released. Though many of these myokines can also be associated with an inflammatory response, when stimulated by exercise, they actually decrease inflammation. This is one of the main reasons why regular walking can dramatically reduce the risk of metabolic diseases, as well as certain cancers, and even erectile dysfunction. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, also increases your ability to handle oxidative damage. This makes movement both an anti-inflammatory, and an antioxidant. And all without a single pill in sight.

Losers Walk

Though many people still rely on counting calories as their guide to fat loss, there isn’t as much evidence to support this idea as we’re led to believe. Not all calories are created equal, and simply inducing a calorie deficit by increasing exercise alone does not induce long-term weight loss. Fear not, though. The upside of this complex equation is that some activities that don’t “burn” many calories can still help with weight management (if you’re into that kind of thing). Instead of worrying about starving yourself thin, you can produce significant fat loss by spending less time sitting and more time walking. No gym membership or Weight Watchers required.

Every Little Helps

As I’ve previously mentioned, killing yourself on the treadmill isn’t enough to compensate for the negative effects that a sedentary lifestyle can have on your life expectancy. This means that movement needs to be built into your day, and the best way to do this is to walk more. For most of us, this can begin with walking to work. Use public transport? Get off a stop or two earlier. Drive to work? Use a park and ride, and walk the last ten to twenty minutes. Worried about being late for work? Perfect – a brisk pace is associated with even greater benefits.

To build on this, there are a number of other ways to add walking into your day:

  • Break it up: Walk while you take a phone call at work, or pop out for few minutes between meetings. Accumulating walking time in segments of just two or three minutes is enough to improve metabolism.
  • Lunch with friends: Even the shortest lunch break is enough time to get some walking done. And why not drag your co-workers with you, for a more relaxed and more productive workplace?
  • Move around meals: Evening meal times are another great opportunity to walk. Do a quick lap while dinner finishes in the oven. Even better, take a stroll after you’ve finished eating. Your online dating profile says you like long romantic walks in the sunset, but when was the last time you actually took one?

Most importantly, all this walking adds up. Multiple ten-minute walks may even be better than one long one. This means that ten minutes to/from work, ten minutes at lunch, and ten minutes after dinner is a fantastic start.

Pro Tips

If you’re the kind of person whoneeds a firm plan before going walking, you might have two questions left – where should I walk, and how fast should I walk?

  • Take it outside: Most of the studies examining the effects of walking on health use a treadmill in a sports science laboratory, or give people pedometers to track their steps without specifically examining where they’re doing the walking. This suggests that you can walk pretty much anywhere to see most of the health improvements. However, studies have found greater psychological benefits of walking outdoors in green areas compared to walking indoors or in the city. Most importantly, finding the environment that you enjoy the most, be it the beach, a river, forest, or park, is likely to give you the greatest benefit of all.
  • Outpace death: I know what you’ve been wondering all along. How fast do you have to move to beat the grim reaper? Luckily, science has the answer, and it appears to be three miles per hour. Other studies suggest that eighty percent of your maximal walking speed is the most efficient and sustainable pace. If you want to estimate these speeds, try one of the following:
  • Use a map or online pedometer to measure a nearby half-mile loop. Aim to complete it in ten minutes (three miles per hour).
  • Find a short stretch where you can walk as quickly as possible for twenty seconds. For a speed that is eighty percent of maximum, cover the same distance in 25 seconds.

Bear in mind that the key is to get moving and build habits rather than hit a specific speed. Take the time to walk, and enjoy it. As we all know, faster isn’t always better.

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