Have you heard that walking is the most underrated exercise? I used to be a walking sceptic (ha-ha) preferring to get my cardio exercise from running. I saw walking as a pleasant stroll or something to do in between ‘real’ exercise. Embarrassingly, I thought walking was an overrated exercise.
That changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit and the gym and the yoga studio I use had to shut down. I started working from home (WFH) and had to adopt new exercise and wellbeing routines.
Six months of lockdown and WFH later, I’m a walking convert and I want to convert you too!
The benefits of walking
“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day”Henry David Thoreau
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”Friedrich Nietzsche
“Walking is man’s best medicine”Hippocrates
If you were going to choose just one exercise to do, there’s powerful arguments supporting the case for walking. According to the Mayo Clinic a regular brisk walk: helps maintain a healthy weight; improves balance and coordination; helps prevent or manage heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes; and strengthens bones and muscles.
If you’re in a thunderous mood, feeling sad or unwell or needing inspiration, a walk always helps. The mental health benefits of walking are undisputed and it’s for this reason alone that walking deserves the title of being the most underrated exercise.
Walking is free, it requires no skill or expertise and it can be done alone or with others. It’s low impact and easy on your joints. You can walk in any terrain; in cities or countryside and everywhere in between. Walking can be done inside on a treadmill or even just on the spot. Have you seen the YouTube videos like this one?
Whilst it’s important to incorporate other forms of cardio exercise in your routine, there are times when walking may be the only exercise you do. If this is the case, I want you to feel OK about that. To help you, I’m going to give tips so you can get the most benefit from walking and feel fantastic.
Why I started walking for fitness
Initially, I started walking to get some fresh air and connect with nature to cope with the head-spinning effects of COVID-19. I also needed to break up the WFH day and make up for the loss of incidental exercise.
I wrote in my journal,
“I’m trying to walk every day – just to the park and back to try and make some sense of this time. I need to remind myself that Mother Nature is amazing. She is always here for us: the sun comes up every day; the trees are always beautiful; the birds keep singing and the dogs keep playing. We’ll be OK.”
I loved these walks, and as the autumn leaves disappeared and the winter days got shorter and colder I started to really feel the benefits. I was hooked on the mental health benefits of walking and, ironically, I was doing more steps and being consistently more active than I was pre-COVID.
Coinciding with this time was a niggling pain I experienced when running which turned out to be a flare up of IT band syndrome. My physio advised me not to run, so, walking it was. Because of this I had to make sure I was getting the most benefits from walking so that when I was able to run again, I hadn’t lost too much cardio fitness.
The 2 things that unlocked the fitness benefits of walking
What I did next unlocked the power of walking for fitness for me.
Firstly, I put a daily recurring half hour appointment in my calendar to ensure walking a non-negotiable part of my day. Some days I had to adjust the time to fit around meetings or just crappy Melbourne winter weather, but I didn’t miss a day.
Secondly, I started tracking my walks on my Fitbit app. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, right? My fixation on stats from my walks borders on obsessive, but the data really motivates me!
You can see in the example above when my heart was working the hardest (shown in orange and red) and when I was getting the most cardio benefits. Interestingly, these were the times when I did shorter walks at a faster pace (shown as heart beats per minute, or bpm).
3 benefits I experienced from walking every day
I’ve experienced 3 fantastic benefits of walking every day.
- My average resting heart rate has come down by 5 bpm.
- I’ve maintained cardio fitness and am slowly getting back into running.
- Walking has motivated me to exercise every day, not just three or four times a week as I was doing.
I’ve also loved the variety to my routine that walking offers and I’ve learned about the power of forming habits. As the research tells us — it takes on average 66 days to form a habit. You’ve gotta stick with it!
How you can get the most benefit from walking
- If you’re beginning or getting back into an exercise program, start with short walks and increase time and distance over the weeks. I started with just 15-minute meander, increasing to a moderate-fast paced 30 minute walk. Once a week I do a longer walk of about one hour.
- Walking daily for 30-minutes at moderate pace means you’ll be getting the recommended minimum amount of physical activity.
- Walk at a fast pace to get your heart rate up for optimum cardio exercise. Aim for 80% of your maximum heart rate which is calculated by subtracting your age from 220.
- Walk so you can still hold a conversation but are feeling a bit sweaty. Please don’t walk so fast that you can’t breathe or that you feel you’re going to faint!
- You don’t need to do your daily walk in one go for it to be effective. As you can see by my results a couple of short power walks can be more effective for cardio fitness.
- Walk with a good posture and purposeful movement. Engage your core and glutes, and if you’re up for a challenge try doing some pelvic floor exercises as you walk.
- If you’re struggling with motivation set yourself up for success. You could vary your route or walk with a friend. Try keeping your walking shoes on during the day to motivate yourself to walk at any time you can.
So, is walking the most underrated exercise?
What started as a way of keeping myself sane through these “unprecedented times” has become a new way for me to exercise; one with proven benefits that motivates me to be more active.
Not only is walking enjoyable and beneficial, I think it really is the most underrated exercise.
My goal now is to incorporate walking into a regular exercise routine long after lockdown has ended and we’re all back to the new normal. I may not walk every day (because I’ll be so busy catching up on holidays and social events of course) but when I do set out, I’ll remember the words of Thomas Jefferson:
“Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very fast.”
Have you found walking to be an underrated exercise, or do you think it’s overrated? I’d love to know your thoughts… after I come back from a walk to the park to see the dogs playing!
Related Post: 5 essential steps for creating a home exercise routine