The Essential Exercise
“Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.”
If I can get fitness clients to walk three times a week and strength train twice a week for six weeks, the results are universally good. Participants are often concerned that walking is not strenuous enough. They do not see walking in Crossfit Youtube videos. No one on the Biggest Loser just walks. Walking does not leave them gasping for breath. This is my response:
The most recent survey reveals that Americans are living longer. The secret to happy aging is keeping as much quality in this abundance of quantity. Walking is the essential movement skill that we all need in order to live an active and independent existence. Consistent walking practice will help you maintain that skill. Being a strong walker is the ultimate long-term performance goal.
The longer we live, the more we should be concerned with brain function. A consistent walking program improves brain chemistry, strengthens neural connections, and can increase the number of brain neurons. Human neuro development is directly linked to the acquisition of a steady and strong gait.
Reasonable and Repeatable
The impact of any exercise activity you perform cannot be so severe that you are unable to recover in time for the next training session. Nearly everyone can perform a walking program without exceeding their capacity to recover. Many a fitness client became a physical therapy patient because their training activities exceeded their ability to recover. Walking is a reasonable and repeatable fitness choice.
Stanford University produced a *research report on walking in 2014. If you are the decision maker for your family or company, please take the time to read Give Your Ideas Some Legs: Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. Business meetings would be more productive if we ditched the laptops, got out of the chair, and traveled through a collaborative team walk. Gandhi, St. Augustine, and Thomas Jefferson tell us that difficult problems are resolved with contemplative walks. Precede big life decisions with several long and thoughtful walks.
Wide Ranging Health Benefits
Consistent walking produces the same health benefits as more strenuous forms of “cardio” exercise. You can achieve better blood pressure, a lower resting heart rate, and improved blood lipids with a walking program. If your goal is to decrease bodyfat, then walking works as long as you combine it with dietary changes. The British Journal of Sports Medicine has an excellent meta-analysis **paper on the health benefits of walking.
* Give Your Ideas Some Legs: Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking, Oppezzo and Schwartz, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 2014, Vol 40, No 4, 1142-1152
** Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Hanson and Jones, British Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol 49, Issue 11,
Michael O’Hara PT, OCS, CSCS