Walking for Exercise:
Back in the day fitness for me revolved around heavy weightlifting and little else. A lot of you young bucks know the drill, 5 times per week 1-2 hours a day (actually it was more, until I began to learn less is more). Success was measured solely with how much muscle was put on. I won't lie, it was fun. But as we age things change and most importantly, we get smarter. At least I hope we do.
As a younger man right out of college selling high end fitness equipment for a local storefront establishment my education taught me that walking offered tremendous health benefits. In fact, it probably offers the best benefits of any exercise for general fitness needs, and let's face it, America needs general fitness back in our lives.
Benefits of Walking:
- Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
- Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Improve blood lipid profile
- Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
- Enhance mental well being
- Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
- Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes
Let me tell you from both experience and education that walking does even more than all of this. Let's take a look at some other benefits not listed and that sound a bit more fun to talk about.
Walking for Weight Loss:
Walking is termed as an "Aerobic Exercise". Aerobic simply means, "in the presence of oxygen". When we refer to aerobic exercise we talking about exercise where the body is handling the workload in the presence of oxygen. Simply put, you are working at a level where your body is capable of delivering oxygen to the working muscles through the duration of the exercise. You are either breathing comfortably or at an elevated rate, but either way you are delivering the amount of oxygen needed to handle the workload. If you are able to handle the workload for 15 minutes or longer, you are typically working in that "aerobic state".
Important Fact: People with higher fitness levels are more efficient delivering oxygen to the working muscles than people with low fitness levels. This enables fit people burn more fat throughout the day than those of lower fitness levels.
Why is it it important to exercise in the presence of oxygen? I'm glad you asked. In order for the muscle to breakdown body fat for energy oxygen must be present in the body. I said, "In order for the muscle to breakdown body fat for energy oxygen must be present in the body." So, in order to reduce body fat one of the key factors is to workout in the presence of oxygen. The other key factor is to train your body to become more efficient in handling oxygen.
Walking is the most efficient aerobic exercise, in my humble opinion. Your body was made to walk. The muscles work in harmony together, creating the most beneficial atmosphere for fat burning and overall general health. The problem is, we think we have to do so much more, but for general fitness and general health, it should be the predominant exercise in your routine. Plus, it is a key exercise if you want functioning joints after the age of 40 or 50. That's experience talking, again!
Ok, back to fat loss. If you will notice I stated earlier, twice and now a third time, "In order for the muscle to breakdown body fat for energy oxygen must be present in the body." I didn't say, "You have to run as fast as you can, as long as you can where you can barely breathe and you are not done, until you puke." Nope, I didn't say that at all. Working out in the presence of oxygen is actually a comfortable experience. When breathing is elevated, but still comfortable you are in that "prime aerobic fat burning zone".
Muscles in your body use two forms of fuel, glycogen and fat. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and is used for "Anaerobic" exercise. Anaerobic means, "The absence of oxygen". Anaerobic exercises are high intensity, short duration type of exercises, such as sprinting, plyometrics and weightlifting. Anything that taxes your body so heavily where your body is not able to adequately supply oxygen to the working muscles to sustain the exercise is considered anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercises have their place in overall fitness, but that is another discussion for another time. I will discuss how anaerobic exercises can enhance aerobic ability, however. Remember, fat is not the fuel of choice for your muscles during anaerobic exercise, but anaerobic exercises are bad to the bone when it comes to burning overall calories. Again, we will discuss that on another post.
Our objective in this post is to make you a lean mean oxygen machine. Coming up is one of those sentences you want to remember for the rest of your days: The more efficient your body is with oxygen, the more efficiently you burn body fat.
How to Become a Better Fat Burner:
So, it takes becoming more efficient with oxygen to become a better fat burner. How do we train our bodies to become more efficient with oxygen? That's right, aerobic exercise. Back to this whole walking thing we were originally talking about, which I believe is the best aerobic exercise on the planet.
Checkout other benefits that begin taking place in your body as your walk on a regular basis:
- Your heart becomes stronger, delivering more blood (oxygen) with each pump. (This is why heart rates are lower with fit people than lower fitness level individuals)
- Your capillaries where the exchange of nutrients (oxygen) and muscular byproducts between the blood and muscles become greater in number and more efficient.
- Your body creates more red blood cells, which deliver more oxygen to the working muscles.
- Your lungs become more efficient at extracting oxygen from the air.
Aerobic workouts make your body more efficient with oxygen. The result is a body that is much more efficient in burning fat. The beauty part of it all is that you do not have to bust your rear end to make it happen. It happens with consistency and duration. The intensity will naturally progress as your body becomes more efficient.
The Biggest Mistake:
As humans we often make things harder on ourselves than needed. Yep, that is personal experience talking, again. People with low fitness levels often see the runner on the side of the road and immediately associate running with fitness. They then piece together that they must run in order to achieve fitness. This couldn't be further from the truth. Fitness comes in stages. If you are a beginner and going out on a 3 mile jog, which will be mostly walking anyway, is not going to create exercise adherence or consistency with your workouts. You will have had enough after the first few workouts and give up. If I tell you to go walk for 15 minutes 2-3 times per week at a comfortable pace with comfortable breathing then consistency will develop. With consistency obtaining a higher fitness level is inevitable. After a few weeks your body will want to do more. Those 15 minute walks will turn into 25 minute, 45 minute and 60 minute walks. Those walks will then turn into jogs and so on.
"With consistency obtaining a higher fitness level is inevitable."
All of those benefits we listed earlier, especially the ones about becoming more efficient with oxygen and a better fat burner, that all happens with consistency at first, not intensity. I said, "The benefits will come with consistency, not intensity." So, you have to rewire your brain when it comes to aerobic exercise. You will need to workout in the presence of oxygen, which means breathing at a comfortable rate for a longer duration. As your body becomes more efficient with oxygen, and it will when you are consistent with your walking aerobic workouts, your body will begin to tell you it wants more work. It will tell you it wants increased intensity. Do not, and I repeat myself for clarity and a nice dramatic effect, do not put intensity before consistency!
"Do not put intensity before consistency!"
Walking, it's such a simple solution to so many health problems. It prevents strokes, heart attacks and type II diabetes. So many lives have been lost simply due to not walking. It's hard to wrap your brain around it. Why will we not just walk?
I give you a challenge. If you are out of shape and looking for a way to become fit, walk for 15-20 minutes a day three times a week. Do that consistently for six months and see if you will ever want to stop after that. Watch how your body will begin to crave more work, longer distances with increased intensity. It will create a more positive mindset during the toughest of times. It will alleviate stress and lower blood pressure. It's so simple that we are overlooking it and not giving it the credit it deserves. Walking literally saves lives and makes life more enjoyable! Plus, it doesn't cost you a dime!