Walking’s Fitness Benefits

I doubt I need to convince you  that walking  can  benefit your  health. Thanks to research in the  last  decade, most people understand the  benefits of walking. Researchers have  done substantial amounts of work on the  topic of walking  for fitness (not just  performance or biomechanics). And as  the  buzz  grew  louder, what  walkers have  known  all along was borne out scientifically: Regular walking will improve and maintain fitness and  health.

Walking affects the  five components of fitness.

  1. Body composition. Walking four times a week, 45 minutes each time, the average person can  lose  18 pounds in a year  with  no change in diet,  according to an early  study at the  University of Massachusetts Medical  School. Key message: Walking can help  you trim  fat as well as tone your  muscles.
  2. Cardiovascular fitness. Walking, at any level or speed, two or three times a week for at least 20 minutes increases cardiovascular strength. Key message: By increasing the  strength of your  heart and  lungs,  you increase your  ability not  only  to  exercise longer and  harder but  also  to  perform everyday tasks without tiring.
  3. Flexibility. As with any endurance activity, walking doesn’t significantly increase your  flexibility.  Every activity uses certain muscle groups more than others. Therefore, if you don’t stretch the muscles that walking uses extensively, they’ll  tighten, stay  tight,  and  perhaps cause pains or strains. Key message: Flexibility  exercises are still vital for remaining free of injury.  Look for walking- specific flexibility  exercises in chapter 5.
  4. Muscular endurance. All walkers develop a moderate amount of endurance, which enables them to exercise longer before becoming exhausted. Race walkers have  high endurance—comparable to that of marathon runners. Key message: Walking  helps build  your ability to do  something longer without fatigue.
  5. Muscular  strength. You will gain  muscular strength with  walking  but probably not enough for well-rounded fitness. Muscles that get an extra workout in walking include the  entire back  of the  leg: calves, hamstrings, and  gluteals (the buttocks). You’ll also  use  muscles in the  back  and  shoulders when  you swing  your  arms. If you  walk over  hills,  you  may  also  develop more hip  and thigh strength, and  if you  cross-train with other walking-oriented methods discussed in chapter 5, you may also develop additional back,  chest, and arm strength. Key message: Walking strengthens targeted muscles, but  doing  specific exercises for other muscles will develop more balanced strength.

Walking’s Fitness BenefitsWalking provides other physical benefits and  prevents dangers associated with other types of exercise. Walking is a low-impact exercise, which puts less strain on bones and tissues. Walkers land with one to one and a half times their body  weight  per  foot  strike, compared with  three to four  times for running. This creates less  chance for injuries due  to repetitive pounding.

Research indicates that walking helps bones stay strong and dense by forcing your  body  to bear its own weight. Although osteoporosis,  a condition where bones become brittle, is a problem most common in older people, bone density can only be built and maintained when  a person is young. Thin bones can lead to hip and spine fractures. A quarter of all women will ultimately fracture a hip,  after  which the  average six-month survival rate is worse than after  a heart attack. Men aren’t immune to thin bones, either; they  just get them later in life than women do.

Exercise will  help  build  your immune system, too. In one  study by Dr. David  Nieman  at Appalachian State University in  North Carolina, a group of women who  walked  45 minutes a day  were  half  as  likely  to  catch colds or flu than an  inactive group. This  immunity-boosting response applies  to everyone, not  just  women.

Walking improves your spatial awareness and ability to balance because you balance on one  foot with each step. The ability to avoid  losing  your  balance, tripping, twisting an ankle,  or falling requires control and  training your  proprioception—the ability of smaller muscles, such as those in your  lower  legs and  ankles, to send accurate messages to nerves and  other muscles to keep you upright. Although balance is something we take for granted, it takes training and  practice, just  like everything else.

From casual exercisers to Olympic athletes, walking offers everyone a challenge.  Walking can  be a slow stroll as you gain fitness, a dawdling saunter to spend time  with the  kids or to recover from injury,  a daily fitness activity for life, or  a high-level and  challenging sport. Or it may  be  all of these for you, according to your  mood or your  energy level on a given day.

Leave a Reply