Benefits of Walking
It’s common for people who want to become fitter to start going to the gym or join a sport club. Yet there is an easier and gentler way to improve your fitness, a method which you use everyday – walking.
Nearly all of us are fortunate enough to be able to walk, and as a hobby it has almost no other requirements. There are no monthly membership costs, no physical or emotional commitments and little to no equipment you really need above a good pair of shoes.
Walking, although not always considered a form of exercise, still retains most of the benefits from a good workout. You can burn away a considerable amount of calories and work towards a healthier weight.
You can kick start your metabolism, which will also improve your energy levels, help bolster your immune system and mitigate various diseases and illnesses that can occur due to poor diet (such as diabetes). Walking also contributes to our overall mental health, helping you unwind after a long day, improving your sleep patterns and contributing to self-esteem and confidence.
Furthermore walking is also easy to incorporate into our life. Most of us can, at some point of the day, include a gentle walk, whether this is during a lunch break, in the evening or used as a form of transport.
Walking carries a lower risk of injury than almost every other form of exercise making it a fantastic form of exercise for older adults. As humans we are physically designed to walk and run.
How often should I walk?
National guidelines suggest that you need at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week to stay healthy. This is a good benchmark to work towards; however as exercise is defined as moderate intensity, it should only include brisk walking. Of course longer duration walking will improve your fitness and health, although there are no national guidelines detailing the benefits of lower intensity but longer duration exercise vs. higher intensity short exercise.
With that being established, there is no need to limit yourself to just 150 minutes – you can walk as far as you like. One of the many benefits of walking compared to other forms of exercise is the ease of performing longer walking sessions with less strain, injury, and effort.
So you may be wondering – how many calories does walking actually expend? How does it compare to other forms of exercise?
In response to the first question, it correlates with the weight of the person walking. People who are heavier will burn more calories as they walk, because they require more energy to move. Similarly, the level of incline can also affect calorie expenditure, which sharper inclines requiring more energy to traverse. Even factors such as the quality of your shoes and your walking technique can be influential in your ability to burn energy.
Walking at a faster rate also burns more energy than walking slower, due to the various additional metabolic processes that occur at more intense levels of activity. Sweating, increasing breathing rate and circulation all force the body to expend more energy than just the energy required than the energy used moving.
Owing to this, a precise figure is hard to determine, although many websites across the internet can provide various estimates. Let’s for example use the website, mapmywalk.com to estimate the calorie expenditure for a brisk walk. The average speed of walking for most humans is between 3-4 miles per hour, so let’s presume a brisk walker may be able to cover up to 6 miles in an hour, or roughly 10 minutes per mile.
According to mapmywalk.com, for a 175 lb, 5ft 8, 30 year old male a 1 mile walk in 10 minutes will burn approximately 145 calories.
Alternatively, for 135 lb 5ft. 6, 30 year old female who walks 1 mile in 10 minutes, 114 calories are burned.
To put this in perspective the recommended calorie intake for men and women is 2500 and 2000 calories respectively. A mere 30 minutes of brisk walking gives us an approximate calorie expenditure of 435 and 342 calories for us theoretical average man and theoretical average women. That’s 17.4% and 17.1% of your total energy intake burned – not bad for a mere 30 minutes of walking.
Furthermore, as previously mentioned, these values will increase the heavier you are, increasing the potential of walking as a weight loss solution.
It is thought that a pound of body fat is roughly equal to around 3500 calories. Several scientists have argued this figure is mildly inaccurate; however it can be useful as an estimate to consider. Using our previous estimates of 342-435 calories for our average brisk walker, this gives us a very rough and crude estimate of losing about 1 lb every 8-10 days. It is not a staggering level of weight loss, but nor is it insignificant. Furthermore it is likely to be far more sustainable than fad diets and brutal eating regimes most of us endorse when we are trying to lose weight.
Walking Compared To Running
For many people the question isn’t whether they should walk or not, it is whether they should be walking or running. Both forms of exercise have many benefits, but ultimately, this doesn’t make them equal. Running does burn notably more calories than walking, with some sources approximately 2.5 times more calories burned during a run compared to walk over the same distance.
There is also evidence to suggest that running is better in terms of the neuro-chemical and hormonal changes it produces on the body. For example some studies have reported that running leads to more weight loss than walking, even when the calorie expenditure for both forms of exercise was equivalent. Likewise some studies have also suggested that running improves appetite management and has a greater impact on depression.
Of course, running is harder both physically and mentally and for many people, to start with walking is a necessity, not a choice. Running also has a dramatically higher chance of injury, even for people with a good technique. Walking still has well-documented and established benefits for weight, blood sugar and diabetes.
Overall, if you are desperate to burn calories on a timeframe, running might be a better choice. Likewise if you want to transform your body rapidly, running has its advantages. Nonetheless, walking is often more practical and easier to maintain, typically leading to greater consistency of exercise over time for the casual exerciser.
As we all have to walk rather than run you can see the obvious advantage in maintaining a walking regime, we all do it already!
Walking & Safety
Although walking is a gentle activity, it is still wise to adhere to safety precautions as you walk. You should always take a drink with you when you walk, especially for longer walks and during hotter days. This drink will preferably be cold water, but any refreshing fluid will do, but try and avoid sugary sports branded drinks.
It is also a good idea to inform people that you are out for a walk. This ensures that someone will pay attention if you do not come back, perhaps due to getting lost or being injured. This is particularly important if you favor walking in rural trails where you might not encounter other people and the path may be cobbled or difficult to walk on.
It can also be considered important during late night walks where it is easier to become lost or encounter trouble. If possible it can be good idea to walk with at least one other person or in a group.
Consider the neighborhood. Stick to areas that are known to be safe and have plenty of activity during the hours you chose to walk. Avoid dangerous areas where there a few people about. Likewise, avoid wearing or displaying unnecessary valuables, such as expensive jewelry whilst walking which can draw undesired attention.
It is always best to know your route in advance. If you chose a walking route which you are not familiar with, ensure you bring with you a map or mobile GPS to help you in case you lose your way.
Although many people enjoy listening to music during their walk it is often better to avoid music as it distracts you from your surroundings, meaning you are delayed in your reactions to dangerous situations. If you must listen to music as you walk, use a low volume setting or only use a single earphone.
Likewise it is also a good idea to always keep a mobile phone on your person as well as a small amount of money to get yourself out of any difficulties you might face. Enough for a taxi fare should suffice.
Wearing brighter clothing is also advised. This allows you to be easily seen by oncoming vehicles and other pedestrians. During the evening, reflective clothing is particularly important as normal brighter colors might not be easily identified.
If you must walk on a road without any pavement, always ensure you are walking into oncoming traffic, rather than away from it. This ensures that you can always see what vehicles that are coming towards you and allows you to avoid any vehicles that are not driving safely. If your back is facing oncoming traffic there is a significant risk a wayward driver may hit you in the rear.
How to Start
Start gradually. Begin by taking a slow and short walk of around 10-15 minutes. Of course, most people will be able to walk significantly faster and for significantly longer than 15 minutes, but starting small has numerous advantages. By starting small, you allow yourself to form a habit through consistent practice. It is more important to consistently do a small walk than perform larger walks with irregularity. Generally speaking, the former will also amount to a greater distance, which is crucial if you are using walking as a means for weight loss.
At only 15 minutes a day you should easily be able to walk every day, with no excuse as to why you cannot fit walking into your schedule. At this stage it’s not important to dwell on your technique or your distance, just getting into the habit is the most important thing. After all, 15 minutes a day amounts to 1hr & 45 minutes per week – a sizeable amount of exercise.
After a few weeks, you can start to develop your walking practice further. Walking slowly will also allow you to focus on factors such as pace and posture. The correct posture assumes an elongated, but not entirely rigid spine. You should walk with an upright rigidness – if your back is forced to be straight, your back muscles will feel the strain rather quickly.
Good posture, when practiced, should be effortless. Let’s face it we have been walking since we were toddlers so a good walking posture should already be defined, or requires minimal adjustment.
Also focus on pace. You want to walk with a regular speed. This helps you regulate your intensity, choosing a pace that you can maintain, but at the same time presents a little challenge when held for a longer period of time. It also helps you consider your timing and your distance – if you walk at a regular pace you will be able to intuitively know how far you have walked and how fast.
In terms of fitness, a good pace starts as what is commonly termed a ‘talking pace’. At this pace your breathing is elevated, but you would still be able to hold a conversation and talk with someone else whilst walking alongside them.
Once you have both good posture and pace established, you can then increase the duration of time you are walking for. Thirty minutes per day will have an impact on your general fitness, at least if you establish a talking pace.
If you are looking for higher levels of fitness and keeping your walk at around 30 minutes you should be looking at increasing the pace so that your breathing becomes hard, although not strained.
For weight loss, longer periods of walking are recommended. 60 minutes a day at a talking pace will cause a significant amount of calories to be burned.
The Importance of Variety
Don’t presume that your walks need to be in rural areas or designated walking paths – there are so many interesting and unique routes that can be undertaken in urban areas. Do a little research and look up your local area – often you will be surprised at just how much is available to walk around. Often it is quite embarrassing – we can live in a place for several years without realizing the wealth of routes and interesting features in the surrounding regions.
Most of us will also probably live within walking distance from our jobs. However we won’t necessarily think its walking distance but if its 3km or less it’s definitely a great option to increase your walking activity. Incorporating walking in to your daily routine can pay massive dividends towards reaching ones goals.
Also embrace opportunities that give you more potential to walk. Volunteering, especially in a natural setting, joining walking or rambling groups or walking with your kids in parks are also easy and relaxed ways you can increase your walking count.
A common goal is to walk around 10,000 steps per day. This goal doesn’t have to be your specific goal, however, it is useful to establish other goals during your practice, which will help keep you motivated and disciplined.
For example, walking around 1,000 steps in 10 minutes is a reasonable standard of walking for a regular person. Consider timing your walks to try and accomplish walking at this pace.
Also consider staggering your walking periods throughout the day. Accomplishing a few thousands steps in the morning, a few thousand more during the day and finally a few thousand more in the evening is typically easier than doing 10,000 in one setting.
In order to help increase public fitness, mall walking is increasingly encouraged across the U.S.
Mall walking alleviates many of the concerns and difficulties associated with outside walking whilst still retaining the benefits. Malls typically are temperature controlled, ensuring that they are neither too hot nor too cold. Malls also have protection from the elements, helping you to avoid intense sunlight, rain and wind.
Furthermore malls have security staff and plenty of other people present in the area. This can ensure you feel safe and secure during your walking exercise. Malls are also often easy to walk in, as you are unlikely to slip, trip or fall on the flat and textured mall surfaces compared to rocky and uneven natural settings.
Malls also have a few special conveniences. They have restrooms and places to buy snacks and refreshments. They even have shops to sell fitness gear just in case you need to pick up a replacement pair of walking shoes or a new backpack.
Owing to this, mall walking and mall walking programs can be a fantastic choice for people who do not enjoy walking outdoors but can’t afford or do not feel comfortable in a gym setting.