Hello friends, and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter.
The next step is just the beginning! So keep walking! Whether that sentence seems metaphorical to you or you prefer to take it literally, I think it’s a handy motto as we move from 2013 into 2014. At this time of year with the busyness of the holidays and the year to year transition, I like to keep the topic for my last newsletter of the year simple. And what could be more simple than walking?
Walking is a commonplace activity, and yet some new information gleaned from research came out this past fall. I’d like to share it with you because I do get questions about whether walking is really good for our health and well being.
Yes, science does indeed back up the idea that walking has health benefits. The cumulative effects can reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease, help in the treatment of hypertension, improve insulin/glucose metabolism for the prevention or management of type 2 diabetes, and aid in the treatment of some musculoskeletal diseases.
The most common questions, though, are about whether walking provides a worthwhile workout, and how well does walking burn calories. Traditional walking for exercise plans may not provide enough of a challenge to people of above-average fitness, yet they may be too difficult for others, so walking for health strategies really do work best when customized for each person.
It’s interesting to understand how a body chooses its natural walking speed. It is generated by the central nervous system, which seems to choose the most economical walking gait for optimal use of fat as fuel. The body never ceases to amaze me! For most of us that means a pace of about 2.8 miles per hour.
We’re often encouraged to take a “brisk” walk, but the idea of a “brisk” pace is left up to interpretation. What’s brisk to one person may be leisurely to another. However, a good place to start understanding what a “brisk” walk is then, is the recommendation that we accumulate 30-60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise at least 5 days a week, or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise at least 3 days a week, or a combination of the two.
It’s harder to measure intensity, so a good rule of thumb is that approximately 100 steps per minute is moderate-intensity exercise. That would be at least 3000 steps in 30 minutes at least 5 days a week. This can easily be tracked with a pedometer. A walker could also accumulate 3 daily walks of 1000 steps in 10 minutes on 5 days each week.
Here’s the next part of the equation. As a running/walking coach I understand, and want you to understand as well, that load placement affects calorie expenditure when you walk. Your energy expenditure when you walk comes from activating the muscles that control the body’s center of mass, swinging your legs relative to your center, in order to support your body weight.
There are lots of ways to add weight to your body when walking, perhaps the most popular being weighted vests. Not all methods are safe, so if you choose to add weight to increase your calorie burn while walking, please be careful and be sure not to add more than 20% of body weight, if that much, especially if you walk longer distances.
I also field questions about inclined treadmill walking. This is a common way to add to the intensity of walking for exercise, especially for those who can’t reach faster walking speeds or for people with joint injuries. Remember that your incline settings should be based on your fitness levels and your perceived exertion levels. So work with a few different inclines and see how it feels.
The difference between walking and running for most people is that we tend to expend more energy when running. This expenditure is about 30% more than when walking the same distance.
High intensity interval training programs can be used for walking even though we tend to hear more about them in the context of running. Three programs that I often recommend to clients involve high-intensity aerobic interval walking, sprint interval walking, and a step ladder interval walking program. If these are what you require more than simple brisk walking, let me know and we’ll see if we can work out an appropriate plan.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to pay attention to your walking form. If you don’t know what proper walking form is, please contact me. The last thing you want is to injure yourself, or not get the results you want from your walking program. And yes, you can get injured walking for exercise!
To conclude, the key practical findings to remember from the walking research are:
1. Walking 100 steps per minute equates to moderate-intensity exercise.
2. Adding weight in the form of ankle weights, carrying weights in your hands, or weighted vests may or may not increase your energy expenditure, and if not used properly may actually cause injuries.
3. It’s good to vary your walking programs either by using intervals, inclines, or distances and lengths of time spent walking.
So that’s it for the last letter of 2013. I do so appreciate you all for reading and continuing to contact me when you have comments, questions, or topics you’d like to see me write about. I started writing the Joyinmovement letters in 2005 and still get so much joy from sharing my ideas and thoughts about health, fitness, and a life well lived.
I wish you all the healthiest and happiest of holiday seasons and a wonderful start to the new year!
Until next year,