Walking is, in my opinion, the most under rated form of exercise there is.
I am well aware that there are a lot of trainers and influencers claiming its not ‘proper’ training and you have to ‘go hard or go home’.
But it is, and you don’t.
I was recently asked by iNews to discuss the benefits of walking and why getting your steps can be one of the most beneficial things we do. Transcript of the full interview here:
Is 10k steps a day a myth? Is there a better goal to aim for?
The figure of 10,000 actually came about from a marketing campaign for a pedometer (step counter) to get people active ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The device was called a Manpo-kei (10,000 meter) , the Japanese character for the number 10,000 looks like a person walking.However arbitrary that figure originally was, in the time in between then and now research has shown that it wasn’t really too far off the mark.
The fact that the figure of 10,000 has existed as an activity target for almost 60 years would tell us that it was successful as a marketing campaign! However, there is no hard stop at this figure, its not correct to assume that if we are doing a little less we have failed and if we do a little more then its harmful.Its a reasonable target – but not an absolute one – and a recent meta analysis of research suggests that there may be a ’sweet spot’ of step count that is actually a little lower (around 7500 may be more accurate.)A body of research published recently shows a correlation between step count and ‘all cause’ mortality – by this we mean not just risk factors associated with poor aerobic fitness, but all health factors both physical and mental.Link to the meta analysis here:
Could you theoretically just walk and do nothing else to stay fit and healthy? How much and often would you have to do it?
You can walk your way to improved health, but for optimal health and fitness we would need to include other activities.If we consider that fitness has 5 measurable qualities: strength, cardiovascular fitness, mobility, body composition, and emotional well-being, then we can definitely say that we can walk our way to improving three from the five. Walking has been shown to have a positive correlation to aerobic fitness, body composition and emotional wellbeing.However, if all we did was walk then we would be neglecting strength and mobility – it is absolutely fine for a training plan to prioritise some aspects of health and fitness over others at different times depending on individual needs and goals, but we shouldn’t ever really ignore any of them. A balanced health and wellbeing regime should be considerate of all five.
Walking fits on the low intensity steady state (LISS) category of exercise so it isn’t really something we need to increase the intensity of. Increasing intensity of exercise generally correlates with reduced volume, and whilst there are befits of higher intensity shorter duration exercise bouts – they are different ones to those we get from walking.With regards to adding weights to the ankles this can actually be harmful to the connective tissues of the knees so isn’t really something I would recommend – weighted vests would be the safest way to load a walk – but you could also just wear a backpack or carry your shopping home!
One of the great advantages of low intensity exercise such as walking is that its cumulative. So you can accumulate your steps across the day however you like, breaking them up into manageable chunks doesn’t reduce any of the health benefits.Intervals are really associated with high intensity training which is a very different energy system with very different benefits so it doesn’t really fit to discuss intervals with activities like walking.The goal really is an accumulation of volume across a day then week and then month. When we keep intensity low and increase volume then we keep down time between exercise bouts to a minimum. You can get your steps in every day without needing time off to recover.
If you’re walking on uneven terrain there are additional benefits of improving the strength and flexibility of the feet – which has been shown to have a positive correlation with reduced pain and injury prevalence of the knees and lower back. These benefits have been shown to be even greater if we wear shoes with a more malleable sole (so trainers over hiking boots)
Intensity shouldn’t really be the goal – when it comes to walking we are looking to accumulate volume. High intensity exercise has other benefits, but it cannot be performed daily. Walking gives us plenty of health benefits but with minimal risk and no recovery time..One tip to get eve more from your walks is to walk outside and look up. When we walk outside we experiment something called ‘optical flow ‘ which is quite literally the flow of objects past our eyes as we move forwards.Optical flow has been shown to have positive ffec ts on physical and emotional wellbeing – this input to the nervous system constantly updates the brain where you are in space. The varying stimulation as objects pass us by (or when we pass between them) activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest), in contrast to focusing on a fixed stationary object (such as a computer screen, phone, for even a treadmill console ) which activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). One of the reasons we often have more creative thoughts and better conversations when we go out for a walk.Walking meetings and walking social catch ups are great ways to get your step count up, and with this additional neurological benefit they’re likely to be more productive too…