Is Walking Really Exercise


During recent speeches I have given on heart health, we invariably get into a discussion about my recovery from heart disease and the subsequent procedures.  I explain that my first step in recovery and getting back into shape was simply walking.

When I say that, people typically ask me what else I did to get into shape.  Did you lift weights, bike, swim, surely you had some elaborate routine to recover from 5 procedures and 2 serious complications in 9 months?  Uh, well, not really.  Sometimes I wonder if I missed something.  Should I have been doing more?  Not according to my doctor, and my situation may be a bit different from someone without a freshly stented left anterior descending artery.

Let’s take a closer look at walking and see if it really qualifies as exercise.  I can tell you this, first and foremost, without question, it is better than sitting on the couch.  Ok, that’s a given, but what does it do for you from a fitness standpoint?  Well, I guess we have to start by defining fitness.  Good old Webster says it’s the quality or state of being fit.  Well, that doesn’t help much.  Let’s try the new fangled  They refer to fitness as the capability of the body of distributing inhaled oxygen to muscle tissue during increased physical effort. Ok, that is a little better.  I interpret that as being able to move freely, without restriction, reasonably without resulting in exhaustion and without overly taxing your heart and various muscles, that is being fit.  In a tangible sense, it may mean being lean, having some strength and endurance, and being able to perform daily tasks without getting sore or injured, or even becoming out of breath.  I think that covers it for the sake of this discussion. Certainly there are different degrees of taxation of the cardiovascular and muscular systems, but for now, let’s stick with this definition of being fit.

Now that we know what fitness is, how does walking help?  Here is a list of muscles used in order to walk: all four muscles that comprise the quadriceps.  Hamstrings (back of upper leg), and glutes (butt muscles).  Tibialis anterior (front side of shin, lifts toes off the ground).  Calf muscles (lift the heel off the ground, includes the gastrocnemeus and soleus muscles).  Abdominal muscles support your torso as well as stabilize your pelvis while the muscles of your back work to maintain posture and keep your body in the upright position. Your shoulders are exercised continually as you swing your arms back and forth.

Whew, I didn’t even know I had all those muscles.  Now you know that there are a lot of muscles involved to move the human body through something as simple as walking.  But, does it really do the things I mentioned above, such as create endurance and strength?  It can.  Walk at 3.5 MPH on a treadmill for 20 minutes and check your heart rate?  It will probably be over 100 beats per minutes.  Put the incline up to say, 3%.  Tell me how you feel the next day.  Go on a 2-3 mile walk at a brisk pace pumping your arms, or better yet, carry a 2 or 3 pound weight in each hand while walking and pumping those arms.  How did that work for you?  How did you feel the next day?  If you are not used to it, I bet various muscles would be pretty sore, which means they are being worked.

Let me sum it up this way:  walking is good exercise.  It won’t build large body builder type muscles (actually, it can for certain muscles if you add variables such as steep hills and increased pace to your walks), but it can instrumental in getting you “fit”.  Here is another thing to consider, a 160 lb person, walking 3 MPH, burns 85 calories and hour.  Increase it to 4 MPH, and you burn 92 calories an hour.  At 5 MPH (slow jog), you burn 116 calories an hour.  Remember, calories are a form of energy, it takes considerable energy to walk a mile at any pace.

I will leave you with this suggestion.  If you don’t track your steps, start.  Set a daily goal.  Start with say 5,000 steps.  At the end of the day, if you are short, go for a walk and hit your goal before hitting the sack (you will probably sleep better).  Increase it by 1,000 steps (about a half mile) every two weeks until you get to 10,000 a day (about 5 miles).  Here is a helpful tip, if you work at a desk, get up once an hour for 5 minutes and go for a brisk walk.  Over an 8 hour day that is an additional 40 minutes of walking.  Your employer shouldn’t mind because you will be healthier, more energetic, and probably more productive.  40 minutes of walking at 3.5 MHP is over 2 miles (over 4,000 steps) of walking during the day, that you wouldn’t have done otherwise.  You will burn, approximately, an additional 150-180 calories a day, depending on your weight. So now, you are not only building strength and endurance in all those muscles we mentioned above, but you are probably losing weight too.  Now do you agree with me that walking is exercise?  All that’s left is to do it.

Enjoy, and always check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to begin an exercise program.


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