4/17/17

Today's blog: Think walking won't make a difference? Think again.

By Kiley Owen, PA-C

No Pain No Gain?

I used to think that getting in shape meant doing some sort of intense, sweat-soaked, "no pain no gain" type exercise. 

Periodically I would get motivated to do such exercise ... for a few days. Then I would quit. 

Unfortunately there was nothing about it I enjoyed. Whether it was running or some kind of aerobics program, it all felt like torture to me. So my dread for this kind of exercise quickly took over, and I would give up. 

A More Moderate Approach

family out for a walk or hikeThen I tried something different. After gaining 20 pounds in four months in France, I wasn't happy with the way I looked and felt. But instead of doing the same cycle of motivation -> torture ->  quit -> repeat, I decided to stop the broken record. I tried something easier, more enjoyable for me, which allowed me to stay consistent and get much better results

I committed to two simple things:

1) I cut back on portion sizes. (No forbidden foods. I just payed more attention to calories, ate smaller portions, and made a conscious effort to include some healthier foods.) 

2) I went for a 2-mile walk every day. (Over time this distance increased.)

That's it. 

Walking? You might think. No way. Walking can't possibly lead to the kind of transformation I'm looking for! 

I beg to differ. Walking not only allowed me to take off the extra weight, it also gave me confidence in my ability to reach other health goals. 

7 Reasons Walking Is Awesome

Walking is such a natural, unassuming exercise that many don't realize its powerful health benefits. So I thought I would share 7 reasons walking is awesome:

1. Fat burning. When you do a moderate exercise such as walking, you are working in the "fat burning" zone. This means that your body is getting the majority of its energy from fat stores. As intensity increases (during running, for example), your body uses more glycogen, which is the stored form of carbohydrate in muscle.

As an interesting side note, this is why weightlifters will sometimes limit intense aerobic activitybecause that kind of exercise (although great in multiple other ways, such as cardiovascular fitness) can compromise their muscle-building efforts. 

So if you want to shed some extra weight, think of walking as an excellent fat-burning exercise. Walking, combined with decreased calories, will melt the fat away. 

2. Walking offers multiple health benefits. These include:

  • Weight management
  • Stronger bones and muscles
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Decreased stress (the stress hormone cortisol decreases)
  • Improved mood (endorphins are released, naturally enhancing your mood)
  • Blood sugar regulation (especially important for those with type 2 diabetes)
  • Blood pressure control (decreased vascular stiffness)
  • Decreased risk of heart attack and stroke (decreased vascular inflammation)
  • Protective against multiple other conditions, including dementia, colon cancer, and erectile dysfunction
  • Overall decreased risk of death

I found this excellent Harvard Health Publication (don't worry, it doesn't read like a medical journal:) that does a great job of explaining the many health benefits of walking. I highly recommend checking it out.

3. Convenience. You can do it indoors, outdoors, pretty much anywhere

4. Inexpensive. No fancy equipment or gym membership needed (just a decent pair of shoes).

pink walking shoes5. Low impact = easy on the joints. With walking, you always have one foot on the ground (unlike with running, where there is a phase when both feet are off the ground). This makes it lower impact, which makes it easier on the joints

6. It's a healthy way to do other things. Since walking is such an automatic activity, it doesn't require much concentration. As a result, we can do other important things while improving our physical health. Want to catch up with a friend or spend quality time with a family member? Go for a walk! Want to listen to a great audiobook or podcast? Go for a walk! Want to give your mind a break, de-stress, and take in nature? Go for a walk!  

7. It's a gateway exercise. There are so many people (myself included!) whose path to a healthier way of life started with walking. As I mentioned, I used to hate running. Yet once I had a consistent walking routine, I decided to jog a bit. At first it was a very short distancejust a block during my route. Then it became two blocks. Then it became more.

These days I like to go out for a run (3 miles is an enjoyable distance for me) as often as I can. I spend some time walking before and after the run. Running is no longer as difficult, and I actually enjoy it!

Walking is frequently the "gateway" to a variety of other physical activities. As walkers get in better shape, they often gain the confidence to expand their horizons and enjoy new activities.  

Time to Stop the Broken Record?

If you (like me) have found yourself playing the broken record of motivation -> torture ->  quit -> repeat, I encourage you to try something different. Consider a more moderate approach.

Go for a daily walk, and see where that practice takes you!

Kiley Owen is a physician assistant, blogger and preventive health enthusiast. This post — along with helpful links to other resources — originally appeared on her blog, makinghealthapriority.com.