When I first became a personal trainer, I was constantly looking for the most “hardcore” workouts. A workout was useless to me unless it left me in a sweaty mess on the floor. Everything was maximum intensity. There was no “taking it easy” in the gym. I was always pushing the weights higher, doing more reps, doing more exercises, and coming up with more and more extreme circuits to push myself.
My training partners and I would laugh whenever we’d see the mall walkers doing laps, or someone in exercise gear strolling down the side of a road. “Walking?! That doesn’t do anything! That’s not exercise!” 15 years later, while I still might not consider walking “exercise” by the strictest definition, I’ve become wise in my old age, and have realized walking’s inherent value. But even though walking might be good for us, can we lose weight by walking alone? Let’s discuss.
What is Exercise?
Exercise exists mainly to replace the “work” the work that we used to do to survive, but no longer have to do because of the development of technology. Before planes, trains and automobiles we would walk or run to get from one place to the next. We had to hunt and gather for our food each day, and we were responsible for building and repairing our own shelter. All of these tasks are extremely physically laborious. Now most of us sit in a car to go to work, sit at a desk while we’re at work, and when we get home, well…we do some more sitting. Some people say that “sitting is the new smoking.” This is foolish of course. No one needs to smoke. Eventually everyone must sit. The problem isn’t the sitting per se, but the lack of all the other stuff. That’s where the gym comes in. The gym acts as a substitute for all that lifting and carrying and climbing the human body was designed to do. But there is one thing that the gym doesn’t do a great job of, and that’s replicating locomotion.
While doing a difficult or challenge workout feels very rewarding, it can also trick you into thinking you’re doing enough. A really hard 60 minutes in a day pales in comparison to the other 1,380 minutes in a 24 hour period. Assuming 8 of those hours are spent sleeping (in other words, using very little energy). One thing that I have seen happen consistently over the years, both with clients and myself, is an extremely challenging workout completely zaps you for the rest of the day, and you end up being a slug. No amount of intensity in that single hour can make up for being mostly immobile for the rest of the day. This is why chasing a calorie burn in a workout is a waste of time. There’s only so many calories a human body can burn in a 60 minute period. That time would be better spent improving a skill, getting stronger, improving your agility, or any other number of tangible results.
This is where walking comes in to play. Just like any other human movement, walking burns calories. Setting a daily goal for yourself (most common is 10,000 steps per day) ensures a minimum amount of energy expenditure (read: calories burned) per day. As we often talk about, consistency is one of the most important factors to making changes to your fitness and physique. Walking daily helps build that consistency.
The Benefits of Walking
On top of burning calories, walking has several other benefits:
- Improves blood flow and circulation. Are you extremely sore from a workout the day prior? Go for a walk. I guarantee you’ll feel better afterwards
- Improves aerobic capacity. Without getting too deep into the science of energy systems in the body, just know that your aerobic system can benefit from low levels of intensity like walking.
- Great for mental health! Human beings aren’t meant to be cooped up inside all the time (something we all know too well after the lockdowns). Getting outside for some fresh air and scenic views can go a long way for your mental health.
- Doesn’t cost a dime. Aside from a pair of shoes, walking is free!
- Doesn’t cost your body. While hard workouts may burn more calories than going for a walk, walking is very low impact, and rarely cuts into your recovery.
Walking For Weight Loss
Maybe I’ve convinced you to come around to walking daily, but can you lose weight by walking? You probably know someone who started a walking routine and has lost a significant amount of weight that way. As with almost all things in fitness the answer to the question is: it depends.
The human body has an incredible knack for achieving a “homeostasis.” This means adjusting to whatever has been thrown at it. If someone’s “normal” routine includes almost zero physical activity, then the addition of walking is going to be a pretty big stimulus for them. This will likely result in some weight loss. However, if you’re already doing some exercise, or have a somewhat physical job, the impact probably won’t be as great. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing though!
Any time you introduce a new calorie burning activity into your lifestyle, your body will seek to maintain homeostasis, this could mean you’ll feel more hungry when you start walking regularly. Unless you’re actively tracking what you eat, you do run the risk of eating more without even realizing it. If the additional calories you eat surpass the calories you burn from walking, you’ll still get all of the benefits from walking with the exception of weight loss. That’s why simply walking might not be a enough for you to lose weight. As with the majority of weight loss success stories, it’s always a combination of exercise, eating, and other lifestyle factors.
Walking: A How To
It might seem silly to include a section about how to walk, but there are some important things to keep in mind. Here are some pointers:
- Walk a minimum of 10k steps per day
- Don’t count anything from your actual workout sessions towards your steps. So if you go for a run, or hit the gym for an hour, don’t count any of the steps accrued during those activities towards your daily goal of 10k steps.
- Break it up: Don’t feel the need to do all of your walking in one big long walk. If you havea desk job, get up from your desk once an hour to do a lap around your office. Go for a walk after breakfast, on your lunch break, and after dinner.
- Park far away from the store when you go shopping. I used to think people were silly for doing this, but it can easily add an additional 1,000 steps to your day.
- Don’t treat your walks like exercise. Don’t carry weights, or a heavy bag just to add more weight. Don’t focus on being fast, or hitting as many hills as possible. Just simply walk
- Make sure you have properly fiiting and comfortable shoes for walking. Nothing is going to mess your feet up faster than walking in some poorly fitting footwear.
- Get a pedometer which will track your steps. The most popular brand is Fitbit.
- If you decide to use a pedometer, make sure not to sync it with your food tracking app. The extra steps will usually make your food tracker give you more calories to eat…which defeats the purpose!