Is walking a waste of time?

Nov 15, 2023
Is walking a waste of time?

Walking is not a waste of time. Walking is the best starting point for people that are out-of-shape and don’t have a history of exercise.  Walking is the easiest, cheapest and safest way to start building a strong foundation for health and fitness.  This is great news if your most challenging aerobic exercise is getting out of the recliner and walking to the bathroom.


However, there is a point when walking is no longer as beneficial to the body because the body quickly adapts to this stressor. You need to do something to increase the intensity - either to your muscles or your heart - if you want to get stronger and healthier.  For most of us, we decide to walk for longer and longer periods of time.  What used to be a two-mile walk, increased to a five-mile walk and then to an eight-mile walk. This is bad news for our bodies.


As we increase the length of our walks, we start to run into some problems.  First off, you’re really not getting any stronger. Walking doesn’t challenge your muscles or your heart like it may have done in the beginning. This type of moderate aerobic conditioning has very limited benefits once you’ve reached a good level of fitness. If you keep adding on the miles, instead of getting stronger and more fit, you will actually start down the path to osteoarthritis and overuse injuries.  You need to avoid this outcome.


Instead of increasing the length of your walks, try to increase the intensity. This can be done by adding some hill climbs, stair climbs, carrying some light dumbbells or even throwing in some bouts of rope jumping to your regular walking route. This short increase in aerobic intensity should get you momentarily out of breath, which is what you want. That extra intensity challenges your heart and leg muscles to get stronger.  You may even notice some short-lived muscle soreness.  That’s a good sign.


If your goal is to lose some weight, we often think that walking more is better because we’ll burn more calories.  Unfortunately, you really won’t burn as many calories as you think because you’ve become very efficient at this exercise.  In the beginning, you may have burned up to 100 calories per mile. Not bad.  However, as you’ve gotten more fit, you don’t use nearly that much energy to get the job done.  So, over time, you’ll actually burn fewer and fewer calories!  That’s not good for weight loss.


Instead of walking so much, try adding some basic weight lifting to your fitness routine.  Weight lifting is very safe if done correctly and your risk of injury is very low. You will stress your muscles, which will make you stronger.  If you have more muscle on your body, you’ll burn more calories over the course of the day.  Lifting weights will strengthen your joints and improve your balance and posture.


To wrap this up, walking is good.  Too much walking isn’t so good. If you walk more than 5 miles daily or you’ve been walking consistently for several months, try adding some exercises to increase the intensity of your walking route.  Better yet, now that you have a strong aerobic base, it might be time to start lifting some weights and focus on building your muscles to improve your posture and balance.

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