Many of my family, patients and friends love walking- and for good reason. Done regularly it can be great for socialising, exploring, health, sleep and getting a bit of sun- what an awesome cocktail of benefits!
One questions I commonly get asked in clinic is:
Isn’t walking enough to keep me fit and strong?
In short; not quite. But it’s much more complex than that! So read on for the full low down on walking.
Before we get stuck into the limitations of walking, let’s focus on some of its many benefits.
Walking can be great for:
- Heart health: including blood pressure, resting heart rate and more. Especially when you ramp up the speed or challenge of the walk!
- The brain: some studies have shown that walking can help with learning and memory as people age. It can therefore even lower the risk of dementia or alzheimer's disease- pretty powerful stuff.
- Weight management: like any exercise walking can be a part of a plan to shed some kilos. This is particularly powerful when combined with appropriate dietary changes.
- Mood and happiness: walking itself can provide a positive boost to mood with as little as 10 minutes. Combine this with the chance to get outside in nature and spending time with a 2 or 4 legged walking buddy, the benefits are huge!
So there are a few of the awesome benefits of walking, but now back to the main event.
Is walking enough to keep me fit and strong?
Walking can help maintain someone's fitness when the level is right for the individual. Some studies have shown that 15 minutes of power walking is equivalent to approximately 5 minutes of running. This is made even more powerful considering you could easily add walking into your regular trip to work, without needing to drastically change your routine or even your clothes.
Even better still, the injury rates in walkers is also much lower, with rates around 1-5%- compared to 20-70% of runners- so walking is definitely the safer option!
In terms of strength and bone density however, walking on flat even surfaces is not be enough to keep someone strong. For muscles and bones to grow and stay strong, they need sufficient resistance and burn (think doing 50 squats in a row!). This is even more important as we age, as inactive people will lose between 3-5% of their muscle mass each decade after 30. Definitely reason to engage in strength training for years to come!
The “burn” that we feel when doing strength or resistance exercise is a sign of the small stresses or tears that occur in the muscle. This is what is required for muscles to keep strong and stimulated as they grow back stronger in response.
But we can make walking more of a strengthening activity with a few simple steps:
- Pick up the speed: walking faster can put more work through the muscles (including the heart and lungs!)
- Add in more stairs or hills: have you ever walked up more than 100 stairs and felt your legs fatigue as you reached the top? That is a sign that you’ve pushed the muscles to the point of growth- look for this feeling when out on your next walk!
- Walk in the bush: bushwalking often incorporates more hills, stairs and uneven terrain. This ascents and descents combined with the extra stability and balance required when navigating tricky terrain mean that the mind and body get an extra workout.
So whilst walking is a great way to keep mobile and get around town, it won’t build you sculpted legs like a ballerina or bodybuilder. So add a few extra stairs into your next walk and remember to dedicate some separate time for building strength with specific exercises.
If you would like some help with this or managing an injury so you can get back walking, click the link below to get in touch!