Types and Benefits of Walking: Health, Fitness, and Fun
My Favourite Form of Exercise
Walking is a wonderful form of exercise and a great activity for maintaining both physical and mental health. It's also very convenient, since it can be done as part of daily activities such as travelling to and from work, going to an appointment, doing some shopping, or exercising a dog. A walking session can be easy, moderately challenging, or hard, depending on the type of walking and the terrain. Best of all, it's fun.
Walking has always been an important part of my life. When I was a child, walking was how I got to school, visited friends, and reached the library and stores. It also enabled me to explore new places and observe nature. It calmed me down when I was angry, cheered me up when I was depressed, and helped me find solutions for problems. I never thought of walking as exercise—it was just something that I did every day.
In adulthood I continue to walk and find it just as beneficial and enjoyable as I did when I was a child. I make sure that I do more challenging types of walking as well as easier types. A major benefit of this choice is that it helps to keep both me and my dog fit.
If you are very out of shape or very overweight or if you have a chronic health problem, make sure that you consult a doctor before you start exercising by walking. This is especially important if you plan to do the more vigorous forms of walking. Even apparently healthy people should avoid strenuous exercise at the start of a walking program.
Walking for Physical and Mental Health
Walking is a very versatile form of exercise. A walk can be slow and gentle for beginners, the elderly or the infirm, or it can be strenuous and very aerobic for people who want a harder workout. The great thing about walking and some other types of exercise is that the benefits are not only physical but also mental. Walking can improve mood, relieve stress, and boost creativity.
Walking slowly certainly has some benefits. In order to experience the majority of the benefits offered by the activity, however, some effort must be made during a walk. People who are interested in adding variety to their workouts can choose from a variety of walking styles that increase intensity or exercise specific muscle groups.
Physical activity such as walking can help improve health even without weight loss.— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Hill Walking and Hiking
Walking uphill and hiking are great workouts. Climbing hills raises the heart rate and is excellent exercise for the leg muscles. It's important to warm up muscles by doing gentle walking before beginning to climb, however. It's also important for beginners to rest when necessary and even to turn around and go back down a slope before reaching the summit if necessary. I find it an enjoyable challenge to go a bit further up a difficult hill each time I tackle it.
I’m lucky to live at the base of a forested hill which was left mainly untouched when the city was developed. It's easy for me to get an uphill walk and to be surrounded by nature. My dog and I love these trips. They provide great exercise for both of us and the scenery is lovely.
At the top of the hill we reach the Trans Canada Trail, which is also called "The Great Trail". The plan is to eventually make this the longest recreational trail in the world, connecting British Columbia in Western Canada to Newfoundland in Eastern Canada. Walking even a small distance along the trail is very enjoyable.
I also like to go for day hikes in the nearby mountains. Hiking is a wonderful escape from the city. Despite the hard physical effort involved in climbing rough trails, I find hiking to be very relaxing mentally. It's important to note that a mountain hike in a remote area is very different from climbing a hill in an urban or suburban area, however. Preparation and precautions are necessary.
Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking. You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.— Cindy Ross
Power or Speed Walking
Just as in childhood, I don't walk to deliberately give myself exercise. I walk for fun, to explore, to keep my dog fit, to do jobs like shopping and visiting the library, to improve my mood, and to help me think. Since I usually walk either briskly or uphill, exercise is a “side effect” of my walks. Sometimes, however, I do add activities to a walk specifically for their fitness benefits.
I find power walking, also known as speed walking, to be a good workout. This style of walking is done with bent arms, allowing the walker to move at a faster pace than walking with arms hanging at the sides. If you decide to try this style of walking, look on the Internet or in a reference book for instructions. Better yet, get personal instructions from an expert. Body form is important in power walking. Power walking strengthens the upper body, abdomen, and lower body.
I do power walking intervals in some of my regular walks. Power walking is not the same as race walking. Race walking, which is an Olympic sport, enables a walker to move as fast as some runners. I haven't tried this type of walking.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderately-intense aerobic exercise—such as brisk walking—each week.
Nordic or Pole Walking
Nordic walking is also known as pole walking or urban poling. Nordic walking (walking with special poles that somewhat resemble ski poles) appeals to me because it gives both an upper and a lower body workout at the same time. It's also a very low impact form of exercise. I have walking poles and enjoy using them. I don't use them as often as I should, though, because I usually walk with my dog.
Using poles is a great addition to a walking session. Poles are very useful for people who can't walk any faster than they already do but would like to increase the fitness value of their exercise session. Walking with poles can increase calorie burn compared to walking at the same intensity without poles. It can also improve cardiovascular fitness.
Another advantage of Nordic walking is that the support provided by poles can help to compensate for lower body problems. Nordic walking probably reduces stress on lower body joints, although this needs to be demonstrated by research.
Caution is needed when purchasing walking poles. Very inexpensive ones are often quite flimsy and not very supportive. The use of the latest construction materials means that a supportive walking pole doesn't have to be heavy.
If I see a steps when I’m on a walk I happily climb them. I enjoy the challenge of climbing stairs in buildings, going from floor to floor without stopping instead of using an elevator. Deliberately going up and down stairs in quick succession, though, seems like forced exercise to me. I do it occasionally but not very often. Exercise has to be fun for me.
Stair climbing is great exercise. It's a low impact exercise and increases cardiorespiratory fitness. It's more stressful for the body than walking on a flat surface, however. The intensity and duration of stair climbing sessions should be increased gradually. Incorporating mini strength workouts such as stair climbing into a regular walk is an excellent way to boost the exercise value of the walk.
Walking and Strength Exercises
During some walks I stop to do strength exercises when my dog and I find a quiet spot. I sometimes carry an exercise band on my walks. Exercise bands (or resistance bands) don't weigh much—although there are exceptions to this rule—and they can be folded up to put in a pocket or a pack. The stretchy bands can be used to do exercises that build upper body or lower body strength. They aren't essential for increasing upper body strength, however. For example, I often do pushups during a walk when I find a suitable surface to act as a support.
Walking, Fitness, and Health
Please don’t think that you have to do the more rigorous styles of walking that I have described to get any benefit from walking. Scientists have found that any form of walking has valuable health benefits. That being said, benefits will be limited without some exertion.
Regular, brisk walking on a flat and smooth surface is enough to lower the level of “bad” or LDL cholesterol in the blood, reduce the risk of a heart attack and type 2 diabetes, reduce inflammation in the body, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of some types of cancer, and improve mood.
Interval walking—alternating fast and slow intervals within the same walk—has also been found to be good exercise and may be easier for some people to do than a continuous fast walk.
Researchers say that in order to produce a significant weight loss walking has to be brisk and frequent. It's important to follow a healthy diet as well. If your goal is to do more intense walking, remember to increase the intensity gradually. Also remember that you don’t have to push yourself on every walk. I still go for slow walks sometimes.
Running: Great Exercise, But Not for Me
I used to run and often trained for ten kilometer races. Running certainly caused me to lose a lot of weight and the racing events were fun. The training was enjoyable on some days but not much fun on other days. I also developed several minor injuries, even though I was trying to follow a sensible training routine and used good running shoes. What really made me realize that running was not the ideal exercise for me was when I began to resent missing my walking days because of my running training.
I no longer run and find that walking keeps me in good shape. I still enjoy the fun of 10K events, but now I enter as a walker instead of a runner. There are running events of different lengths— including short runs and marathons—that welcome walkers. Walker-only events are held in some places.
I need to walk. It enriches my life and keeps me fit. I hope that I’ll be able to keep walking for the rest of my life, even if some day I have to do slower, easier, and shorter walks.
I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.— John Muir
A Walking Poll
What is the most important role of walking in your life?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2011 Linda Crampton