There is one vigorous, physical activity that can bring you all the benefits afforded by exercise, and it can be done practically anywhere at any time, by almost anyone, regardless of physical condition. It doesn’t require elaborate facilities or equipment and it is convenient and easy. It is walking!
Is walking the best exercise for us? Yes it is! It is a fact that walking produces results in short-term fitness and in long-term health benefits equal to any other aerobic exercise, including jogging. When you jog, you land with 3 or 4 times your body weight. When you walk, you always have one foot on the ground, therefore you land with only 1 to 1 1/2 times your body weight. As joggers age, they increasingly experience knee, ankle, and back injuries. Walking is far easier on your joints and bones.
Why is Walking the Best Exercise for Your Heart?
All around the world, walking has been a popular and recognized means of keeping fit. The heart, which is a muscle, requires regular exercise to keep it strong and make it stronger. Dr. Paul Dudley White, who founded the American Heart Association in 1924, and is considered to be the “father of American cardiology”, shocked his colleagues by saying that not only was walking not dangerous for heart attack victims, it was, in fact, absolutely beneficial and people should be encouraged to take daily walks. Dr. White said this at a time when cardiology patients were forced to lie flat on their backs with a little movement as possible for six weeks. At that time, doctors thought that it would take that time for a heart to heal.
There was a reason why this “bedrest theory” was disputed by Dr. White. He noticed that patients suffered from too many complications from prolonged inactivity. The human body is wonderfully designed for activity and it does not deal well with such forced inactivity. Although it would be another three decades before changes would be made in the medical treatment for heart attack patients, Dr. White continued to encourage his patients to get out of bed and start a program of walking for their benefit.
What is the Best Aerobic Exercise? It’s Walking.
Walking is the ideal aerobic exercise, one that oxygenates the blood which, in turn, supplies oxygen to all cells of the body. The Number 1 prerequisite of life is air. Weeks can go by without food, days without water, but only a few minutes without air before you die. The literal meaning of the work “aerobic” is “in the presence of air”. The heart, lungs, and blood vessels work in harmony to carry this life-giving oxygen to every part of the body.
When you walk, you use your body’s large muscles, which allow the entire aerobic mechanism of your body to work harder than when you are at rest. If this exercise is done consistently, then over time the system becomes stronger and ever more efficient and capable of performing the functions it was designed to perform. Over a lifetime, walking is the best possible means of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus, add the fact that walking will stimulate the activity of your lymph system, and you have a real winner in this exercise.
Benefits on Walking Daily
Walking has been called the perfect exercise (read more here). Recent studies show that even the most moderate, unstructured walking program daily will reap substantial benefits. Of course, the more you do and the more vigorously you do it, the more benefit you will enjoy. But the great news is that even low levels of activity are beneficial. For example, in one of the first clinical studies of its kind, as reported in JAMA, the Journal of the America Medical Association, it was shown that regular hour-long strolls will reduce a woman’s risk of heart disease. Mile for mile, walking is actually the best fat burner. It was also shown that walking four miles burns more fat than running the same distance in less time. An editorial in the same journal points out that a brisk twenty-minute walk three times a week even produces many benefits. Dr. James Gavin, author of “The Exercise Habit”, says that ten minutes of extra activity per day can reduce an individual’s risk of heart disease by 80%. So let’s start walking at least 10 minutes every day!
Walking to Health
Start a program of walking that is very unstructured, easy and one that will satisfy your body’s need for exercise. At the same time you will be walking to health, supporting your efforts to achieve vibrant health. This is not a contest and you will not be graded on your effort. No one will be looking over your shoulder to check up on you. This is your chance to do what you know in your heart is very important, without pressure and without guilt. You can do as much or as little as you choose for your own comfort. Anything you do helps!
All that is required is an agreement with yourself that you will do something. Your goal should be to build up to a 30 to 45 minutes of easy walking four-five times a week at your own pace. That’s it! Perhaps in the beginning you will find it easier if you make your walks functional. Turn them into an errand to pick up some lightweight items at the store if you live near one, walk the dog, stop by a neighbor down the street or to check the mail afterwards. Sometimes getting used to walking is easier if you have a purpose and destination.
There are other ways to integrate walking into your lifestyle. On occasion, you can leave early enough for work in the morning to park a mile or so from your place of employment and walk the rest of the way. That walk, coupled with the return walk at the end of the day, will not only fulfill your daily exercise requirement, but it will also allow you to feel invigorated when you arrive at work and perked up when you return home.
Or you can incorporate a walk into your lunch routine, especially during the winter, when extreme cold in the morning and darkness after work might keep you indoors. If you live near an indoor mall, you’ll find many people walk inside day in and day out all year long.
In addition, whenever you can, walk upstairs instead of taking an elevator. Stair-climbing is an excellent workout that also helps keep your legs in good shape, and you will benefit from even brief stair-climbing efforts. Drive to a park for the sole purpose of taking a walk in fresh air and pleasant surroundings. If you happen to have a dog, both of you will enjoy a walk together at the end of the day.
It All Adds Up
Any time that you can walk, no matter how much or how little, do it! It all adds up physically, and psychologically, plus the feeling of accomplishment will be immeasurably worthwhile. Is walking the best exercise? After writing all the benefits for you in this blog post, I am going to hit the save button, put on my fitness tracker and go for a walk!