Is Walking The Best Exercise?

Copyright 2006 Donovan Baldwin

One thing up front. I personally believe, based on experience and study, that walking has to be one of the finest exercises around. Whether you are interested in health, fitness, weight loss, or aging, there’s not too many things that have such a beneficial effect as walking.

In fact, before we try to humble and belittle walking as an 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 general health through a multitude of beneficial results

>Improve heart and lung strength, efficiency, and capacity

>Improve the efficiency of the body’s immune system

>Reduce stress

>Improve the overall emotional condition

>Increase energy

>Delay some effects of the aging process

>Help maintain muscle tone and balance

>Help prevent osteoporosis

>Assist in the control of diabetes.

Yep, it’s going to be tough to say bad things about walking.

After all, it’s so simple to do, and there’s no real training or special equipment needed. In fact, we’ve been doing it for all but about one year of our lives, so what’s the deal? If it’s so great, why aren’t we all olympic class athletes and healthy as horses?

Well, our bodies were designed back when there was a lot more walking than nowadays. Our ancestors, and I’m not talking about today’s grandmas and grandpas, of which I am one, often had to walk for miles in any given day to gather food or to hunt for it…often chasing it at a fast pace for hours on end. Going from the living room couch to the car, from the car to the office, and back again, with a few trips to the fridge thrown in doesn’t count.

After all, how do we really spend our days. We sit in those cars, at desks, in front of TVs or computers, eat meals full of non-nutritional food, and then go to bed.

Hey! Did you get up early this morning, or go to bed late? That’s more time you have to burn calories, right? Wrong. You just possibly pumped some cortisol into your blood stream, and that’s going to help you pack on weight, but that’s another article.

The point is, we don’t live the way we should in terms of the amount of activity we need. It has been estimated by serious scientists 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 a great exercise in general, there are some drawbacks to it.

The first thing to dispose of is the “perfect” exercise thing. With all its health benefits, there are some things it can’t do. Our bodies need stretching almost daily. This doesn’t need to be vigorous or painful, but it does need to be regular. Walking can’t do that. We also need some weight bearing and resistance exercise for the parts of the body that walking does not work on. Again, this doesn’t have to be incredibly strenuous, but it does need to happen to each part of the body a couple of times each week. In fact, many people divide their resistance exercises into upper and lower body, or by some other division, doing one set of exercises one day alternating with the other. For example, I do dumbbell training for my upper body on Mondays and Thursdays and my lower body on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Walking also is not “perfect” if you have a specific exercise goal that it simply does not address. For example, a tennis player may benefit from improved stamina and leg strength through walking, but will need to do other exercises to strengthen arm and chest muscles for swinging the racket.

Walking for health needs not only to be regular, but brisk as well. It may be necessary to warm up before a real walk, and, for beginners, it may almost certainly be necessary to build up to that 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.

Additionally, you DO need some good equipment. A good pair of walking shoes at a minimum and clothing appropriate to the temperature and weather.

Whatever you do, by the way, get your doctor’s guidance and blessing before embarking on any exercise program.

So, here’s what you do. Start your new-you program gently and begin walking every day. It can be at a mall, in a park, at the zoo, in the woods, along the shore…wherever! Then, after you’ve given your body a few weeks to adapt and your mind the chance to realize that this isn’t bad and you actually feel better than you used to, and once you have made, dare I say the word, “exercise” a part of your life, start with some extremely light weights and begin doing resistance exercises a couple of times a week. Start doing a little stretching every day, and you’ll have it made.

I’m done. Think I’ll go back in the pasture and take a walk…if my neighbor’s goats didn’t get through the fence again.

Hey! There’s a thought. I think I’ll write an article on excuses NOT to exercise.

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