The Benefits of Walking

I’ve repeated the following statement multiple times on this site and within articles for various publications: most people could cure their overweight blues, reduce insulin resistance, dramatically improve other biomarkers of health, and reach a reasonable, “healthy” bodyweight by improving their diet and WALKING alone, no formal exercise sessions necessary.

That’s something gyms, equipment manufacturers, supplement companies, and trainers don’t want you to hear or believe, because then you’d have no reason to pay for their expensive products or services. All you would need, which is all you really do need, is some knowledge, some personal accountability, and some consistent action. That’s the truth.

It doesn’t have to be getting your butt kicked by Bootcamp Betty/Meathead Mike, or Body Composition Bust. Nor should it be. There are various approaches (some more appropriate than others) depending on where you currently fall under the health and fitness spectrum.

Now, if you are an elite athlete and have higher aspirations of physique development: like toned legs, ripped arms, or a six-pack; that’s one ballgame. You’re going to need some Miyaki-style, samurai warrior-like strength training sessions. In other words, you ARE going to have to put up with a meathead like me, and that a$$-kicking IS what the doctor ordered for developing your cover model body. No mercy for the ridiculously vain (myself included)!

But for those who are overweight, de-conditioned, and just starting out, it’s a whole other ballgame in a vastly different ballpark. You need a much less aggressive plan of action so you don’t burn out, get injured, succumb to soreness misery, get fed up with gym meatheads/divas, and give up. For this demographic, I believe that walking, and a targeted, structured, and disciplined nutrition plan is the most productive and efficient route to results.

The problem is, people don’t want to change their nutritional approach, even though that is the most effective way to improving their overall health AND reaching their body composition goals. They don’t want to sacrifice a little, and stop (or at least cut back on) eating cheese fries, sugar, or the 100 different kinds of breakfast cereals. They think they can make up for that lack of dietary discipline with more or harder time in the fitness penitentiary.

If you are familiar with my philosophy, you know my feelings on that one. You can’t out-work a poor diet — you’ll be stuck in that jail cell forever. Trust me, if you could, I would be willing to go to the gym three hours every day just so I could eat onion rings and M&M’s afterwards. For most of us with average genetics, it just doesn’t work that way. Here is a sad truth, that I hope eventually sinks in with you:

The majority of gym-goers are wasting their time in the gym until they put some effort into improving their diets.

I know other trainers would disagree — “lets burn it off Betty, give me a B, a U, a R, a N, what’s that spell?” — but that has been my personal experience with my client base (and those of my closest colleagues) over the last ten years.

THE CAVEMAN THEME RETURNS

But this is a “training” habit, not a “diet” habit, so lets leave the nutrition preaching behind and get this Zoolander-style walk-off going.

What’s wrong with modern society? We just sit around too much. Human beings were made to move. We can always look back to caveman times, to what we evolved from, to see what we should be doing for optimum health. We are hunters and gatherers. Back in the days, our ancestors walked miles a day searching for animals to hunt or vegetables to gather. We didn’t sit in front of a computer screen all day. With modernization, we are wolves trapped in white collars’ clothing.

And we certainly didn’t ride a stationary bike, pedal away on an elliptical, run on a treadmill to exercise for the sake of exercising, or to try and formally “burn off” calories to make up for last night’s ice cream bender. Most of the time we walked, just as part of normal daily activities — to get stuff done. We may have sprinted towards prey or away from predators (anaerobic activity — like adding interval cardio or strength training), but 90% of our activity came in the form of walking.

Most people underestimate the power of at least partially returning to this caveman-style habit, and simply attempting to walk more during a typical day. They think that’s a B.S., “cheesy” fitness tip, or that it’s an aerobic class or 2-hour cardio session, or bust.

They think if they don’t have time to get to the gym, they might as well just do nothing and sit on their butts watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the internet. They sit around reading health and fitness magazines or websites to “research” the complicated routines they are going to do when they finally do get to the gym (which ends up being never, or rarely). They don’t think smaller, simpler steps, like just starting up walking every morning or evening, or adding some non-exercise specific activity into their day — like taking the stairs, etc.

THE BENEFITS OF WALKING

The fittest people I know understand the power of walking. They know that walking is a small yet powerful tool in their fitness arsenal. Here are some of the benefits:

1. Walking can give us many of the same benefits as traditional cardio — calorie burn, increased cardiovascular efficiency, lowered blood pressure, etc. — without all of the drawbacks — joint wear and tear, repetitive strain, negative hormonal impact (overdoing traditional cardio can lead to increased cortisol output and testosterone suppression). You may want to check out our “Best Damn Cardio Article” Series in our articles section.

2. It is convenient — it can be done anytime, anywhere, and can be squeezed in to any part of the day (even multiple times), not as a “formal” training session you have to plan for. No equipment or commute to the gym are necessary.

3. It is not as boring as staring at a wall. With some outdoor walking, you get varied stimulus — buildings, trees, restaurants, blue sky, hot girls or guys (whatever you prefer) out on the town, etc., all depending on where you decide to go.

4. It is a good stress reliever. With the high stress of corporate jobs and modern living, walking is a good way to unwind, take your mind off things, let your brain relax, etc. If work is stressing you out, you are anxious and tense, and you feel like you are going to kill your boss or yourself, take a walk to clear your head. It helps.

Listen, I’m too much of a stubborn, meathead athlete (I ain’t sitting or lying around on a yoga mat for extended periods of time), a workaholic (that’s where my mind goes these days when there’s free time), and a pervert (I think you know what I’m saying with this one), to meditate. It just doesn’t work for me.

But somehow when I’m walking, I’m able to clear my mind and relax a little bit. It is kind of like my active meditation — my body needs to be moving in order for the WB cartoon I have going on up in my head to shut off for half an hour. Maybe it will work for you too.

5. Because it is a leisurely activity, you can multi-task. You can take a walk with a friend or family member to catch up. You can “talk business” or have an informal meeting with a colleague or client while walking somewhere. It’s an active way to spend some time with your kids — they love to just go out and explore. You can even be annoying cell phone guy or girl while walking.

THE WALK MASTER

Here are some tips to include a little more walking into your life. See if any of them are applicable for you:

1. Get up a half an hour earlier and take a morning walk.

2. Walk to get your coffee or tea on your midmorning or mid-afternoon break, but skip the pastries. You are walking to get rid of the muffin top, not add to it.

3. Take a walk at lunch and then eat at your desk.

4. Walk with the kids before dinner.

5. Walk to take care of some errands (i.e., drop mail off, etc.)

6. Catch up with someone over a walk.

7. If you live in a city, walk to your destination instead of driving or taking public transportation.

8. Do something active on the weekend: walk on the beach, go for a hike, walk to the grocery store, etc.

9. Cliché I know, but take the stairs instead of the elevator.

I’m sure you could think of some more opportunities within your specific daily routine to fit in a little more movement.

WRAP-UP

I know I ramble a lot, so I want to leave you with a little slogan to remember.

Stop eating refined/processed foods, Start walking more, and “every little (health & fitness) thing is gonna be alright.”