I have a trick question for you.
Every July Fourth our family gathers at my sister’s house in Wilmington, Delaware for a big cookout. About an hour after we finish eating we go for a group walk.
We head down the hill from their restored rowhouse towards Brandywine Creek. We turn left and walk along the creek on a shaded paved trail. Eventually, we cross to the other side and walk by the perimeter of the Brandywine Zoo.
This annual walk is a great opportunity for aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, parents and grandparents to catch up on life. Two miles later we all cross back over the Brandywine and head up the hill to my sister’s for dessert.
Here’s the trick question:
Was this walk exercise?
For two years I’ve been passionately promoting walking as a way to grow your fitness and even transform your life. But, there’s been a consistent small voice in my head that keeps poking me, “Is walking actually great exercise for EVERYONE?” And, that voice always answers its own question, “No.”
So, this week I’m turning the keyboard over to that small voice to make the case why you should NOT walk for exercise. Before I do, though, I believe wholeheartedly that everyone benefits from walking more and sitting less. Those benefits are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
But, is it the best EXERCISE for everybody? Here are three reasons why it may not be:
WALKING FOR EXERCISE TAKES MORE TIME
Exercise is not subjective. There’s a lot of research about the health benefits of exercise that includes a lower risk of heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, and depression. Exercise can also help with weight control. Because of these benefits, people who exercise regularly can live longer and healthier lives.
But, the Centers for Disease Control also quantifies what counts as exercise in this body of research. And, that standard is directly tied to your heart rate. For an activity to count as exercise your heart rate needs to be elevated. The CDC recommends between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate level physical activity. Walking is a moderate level activity.
But, that’s not the end of the CDC recommendations. If you engage in vigorous level activity you only need 75 to 150 minutes of exercise each week. Of course, this is also not a subjective thing. To qualify as vigorous your heart rate needs to be elevated even higher. Running would be considered a vigorous level activity.
Bottom line…to get the same health benefits it takes twice as long walking as it does doing an exercise like running.
If your life is crammed full it can make more sense to find 11 minutes a day for exercise than 22. That’s how much time you need each day to reach the minimum CDC recommended level of activity.
Every time I write about the exercise benefits of walking I’m aware that some people simply don’t have the time needed every day. And, while I’ve also written about how you can overcome that issue, it likely remains a road block for some.
I actually like and even need the “extra” time walking takes for exercise. My walks provide margin through my day, allow me to control stress, process life, and think more creatively. I used to run, but never got to enjoy those additional benefits. Yeah, it took less time, but wasn’t worth it for me.
But, if you need the most time efficient form of exercise available, walking is not for you.
NOT ALL YOUR WALKING IS EXERCISE
That family walk on July Fourth is a lot of things, but it’s not exercise. At least not for me. During last year’s walk my heart rate never reached a level high enough for this to count as a moderate level activity.
There are a couple reasons for that. Our walking speed did not get above what I consider “grocery store pace”. In fact, I probably push the cart faster than we walk as a family. Secondly, my fitness level is such that I need even more intensity to get my heart rate up.
All walking is good because you’re not sitting. That has real benefits. But, not all walking is intense enough to count as exercise. Of course, there are lots of factors involved for each of us and it’s likely that two mile walk for some in my family was indeed exercise, just not for me.
For walking to reach the level of moderate activity you need to be intentional about the intensity. In other words, for exercise…3,000 steps with thoughtful intensity is better than 10,000 steps of causal movement throughout the day.
For some, it’s a struggle to be that intentional with an activity that’s so integrated with your daily life. You love how walking is seamlessly a part of what you do, but most of it is not exercise. If you struggle reaching the intensity needed, walking for exercise may not be for you.
You might do better having scheduled time every day when you can focus on the intensity. A regular routine at the gym with a personal trainer could help you reach the level of moderate, and even vigorous, activity for exercise.
YOU’RE STARTING TO GET BORED
Walking has been my foundational exercise for seven years. I love it more today than when I started. I find ways to change it up to keep it interesting, but I don’t need much of that because I don’t get bored easily.
I’m not sure why. It might be that my parents didn’t let us watch TV whenever we wanted and I learned how to keep myself entertained. Well, at least I’d like to believe I gained something positive from missing all the best TV shows when I was growing up. Whatever the reason, boredom is not a big struggle for me.
But, I’m not you. I have friends who like to change up their fitness activities a lot. They would get bored doing the same thing for seven years…or longer. And, there’s also value in changing your exercise. If we do the exact same thing the exact same way all the time our body gets acclimated and fitness growth stops. That’s certainly not good.
Perhaps you used walking as a way to start a new fitness journey and you have some momentum, but you’re losing interest and having a hard time staying motivated.If so, it’s OK to find something else. In fact, I’d recommend it!
Everyone should move more and sit less. Walking is a great way to make this happen throughout the day. But, not all walking is exercise just like not every time you pick up something heavy is weight lifting. Both of these activities need intentionality and intensity to reach the level of exercise.
If you have limited time, struggle with reaching the intensity needed, or you’re bored, walking may not be the best exercise for you.
I recommend finding a fitness activity that’s effective and fun for you! I also recommend you KEEP WALKING. The benefits are so much more than just exercise!
If you have a hard time sticking with exercise, walking is a great way to start. The first 30 days of any new habit are critical. I’ve put together a free guide that will help you begin a new fitness journey that sticks, builds momentum, and eventually leads to fitness transformation.
Try The 30 Day Fitness Challenge. It’ll help you set an exercise goal that is achievable and sustainable as you carefully create a new fitness habit.
Unless you are one of the few who can establish habits quickly, you might consider doing the Challenge two or three times until it becomes a habit for you.
If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. While it’s not cheap, it’s less than a few months at the gym. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.
Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking for exercise. As a fitness activity, walking is sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions.
If you click FOLLOW (below on your phone…to the right and above on your computer) you’ll receive an email with a link to each new blog post.