In a quote by Thomas Jefferson he said, "Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far." From my perspective as I write this today, I couldn't agree more! However, as an avid "runner" of well over 40 years I would have objected to this quote up until about 5 years ago, based purely on my former attitude that running is a superior form of exercise to walking. However, since about my 55th birthday, and having logged well over 40,000 miles of running, my feet have encouraged me to look at this from a new perspective.
I began distance running at age 11, and have also played literally thousands of games of basketball, which is a high impact running sport on your feet. I am here to tell you now that I am feeling every mile and every jump stop, in the joints of my feet. While my condition is in no way debilitating, I would rather that the joints in my feet and toes did not ache so much! I don't think that I would have ever played one less game of basketball (a sport that I still love to play and coach), however, if I could go back in time, I would cut my running miles at least in half, in exchange for walking those miles instead. Hindsight is so awesome.
I want to be crystal clear that I am in no way criticizing running! If you want to compete in most any sport, running is likely to be at the core of your conditioning program. What I am saying though, is that if you are out pounding the pavement mile after mile in order to control your weight and improve your health (as I did), I agree with Thomas Jefferson, that walking is the best possible exercise.
First and foremost, it is now accepted research that brisk walking is more effective at reducing bodyfat than running. Not to get too technical, but your heart rate at a brisk walk is in a better fat burning zone, than it is in the higher heart rate zone of running. That said, if you want to compete in a 5K, of course you will need to run! However, if you are simply looking to shed extra pounds of bodyfat and improve your overall health, then I suggest that you "walk it off".
Walking not only reduces bodyfat, but it creates less likelihood of injury to your knees and feet. Walking is a moderately low impact exercise that moves your lymph fluid, elevates your heart rate, pumps your blood, and expands your lungs with fresh air. Walking also exercises your muscles very nicely, do not underestimate the exercise value that you will experience from a brisk walk.
Aside from the physical benefits of brisk walking, there are also benefits to your mind and psychological well being. Since walking is not as physically exhausting as running, there is more opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of your trek. If you walk with a friend or in a group, it can also be an enjoyable social exercise time. However, maybe you prefer the solitude of your walking time, in which case it can literally become your "moving meditation" time. Either way, as you walk, your body is releasing its natural "feel good hormones" such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. So … the benefits of your walk are not limited to your physical body, but also include your psychological and emotional well being!
So what is a brisk walk? As a rule of thumb, I define a brisk walk as a normal walking motion with a slightly longer step, and a faster pace. A brisk walk should cause you to breathe just enough to make it challenging to carry on a normal conversation. You know, it's like you have to catch your breath just a bit to talk. A brisk walk may also cause you to have some slight perspiration on your forehead. If you want a heart rate target, you should consult with your personal doctor, as there are many variables to consider. I personally like to be at 120 bpm for a brisk walk. A brisk walk is not a leisurely stroll. A brisk walk is not a Power Walk … which will be the subject of a future Blog.
Bottom line, don't underestimate the value that brisk walking has on your health. You do not need to exercise like a world class athlete to improve your health. Over time, a daily brisk walk of 20 to 30 minutes can improve almost every aspect of your life. Invest in a good pair of walking shoes, and get started. If you feel the need to consult with your personal physician, by all means do that before you begin your walking routine. As always, I also recommend that you support your immune system and overall body health with a high quality nutritional supplement, such as the HealthPak. Happy Trails!