Is Walking enough? A new study questions the benefits of a walking program.
Walking alone won’t give you 6 pack abs or the stamina of Lance Armstrong, but for the average person there are a great many benefits to participating in a walking program. If you have been a couch potato for the last few years starting a walking program will provide numerous benefits. People recovering from injuries can often walk when they cannot participate in more strenuous activities. Not to mention the peace of mind that comes from walking.
Why is this discussion occurring now? Because a new study from the University of Alberta shows that slowly walking 10,000 steps a day may not be enough exercise to result in significant health benefits.
“Generally, low-intensity activity such as walking alone is not likely going to give anybody marked health benefits compared to programs that occasionally elevate the intensity,” said Dr. Vicki Harber, lead author on the Health First study, which was presented recently at the American College of Sports Medicine annual conference.
The results of the study essentially show that more strenuous fitness programs improved aerobic fitness and reduced systolic blood pressure (your upper number as in 120/70 – 120 is the systolic) more than a 10,000 step program. Those who participated in the more strenuous fitness program increased their peak oxygen uptake by more than 10% while the walkers increased their oxygen uptake by 4%. Oxygen uptake is an indicator of aerobic fitness.
Systolic blood pressure dropped by 10% for the traditional group and 4% for the walkers.
This does not mean walking isn’t beneficial – it is. We all know that you start an exercise program slowly and increase your pace and duration over time. To know whether you are working out hard enough take the talk test – walking at a moderate intensity you should be able to speak a sentence out loud comfortably. If you can sing pick up your pace, you are not working hard enough. On the other hand if you are gasping for air when you try to talk, slow down.
I think the point of the study may be overlooked. If you are engaged in a 10,000 step program some of those steps should come from an intense walk over a period of 30 minutes or more. And the more you walk the more you have to walk to see increasing benefits. Anyone who has engaged in an exercise program to maintain or lose weight knows that you have to increase the intensity and duration of your workout to see increasing benefits.
In what I see as a bit of a counter argument to the study, NBC had a segment on their news shows saying that the baby boomer generation was guilty of engaging in exercise that was too strenuous. Doctor’s were seeing an increase in overuse injuries. Fifty something’s still trying to play baseball with the same intensity as they did when they were 20. Having a rotator cuff injury is not beneficial to your health either.
The lesson in all this, and this is just my opinion, do what is right for you. You and only you know if you feel better after a walk. You also know if you are losing weight. We should all get our blood pressure checked regularly so you will know if it is going up or down.
As for me, I will keep walking. I try to mix up my exercise program add a few weights here, a stationary bike there. Some days I walk purely for exercise and take a fast and long walk around the neighborhood. But give up my strolls around the neighborhood chatting with neighbors and looking at flowers? Never, and I will continue to count it as exercise. Any kind of walking is better for your health than sitting on the couch watching TV.