Walking versus running – which camp do you fall into? There is no doubt that some people are just born to run. You know the ones – you may even be one of them – they are like gazelles sprinting around the track, while everyone else is lumbering (or limping) along behind.
But then again, some people are born to walk. After all, before either a walk or a run was considered “exercise,” our early prototypes walked everywhere they could and only ran if something hungry was chasing them!
Thankfully, the era when jogging was the fitness gold standard, with walks viewed as a weak runner-up, has now passed. Healthcare professionals and ordinary folks are discovering the powerful benefits a vigorous walk has to offer.
In this article, learn more about what exercise science now knows about the many benefits of walks for fitness and health.
What Science Says About the Benefits of Walk-Based Fitness
According to Harvard Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a walk is basically the equivalent of a “wonder drug” for improving your health.
Harvard Health outlines five specific healing powers of even just a 15-minute brisk walk:
1. Reduces joint pain and arthritis.
2. Improves immune system response.
3. Reduces risk of breast cancer.
4. Decreases sweet cravings.
5. Decreases the body’s genetic predisposition to retain weight.
WebMD also reports on a similar study conducted through the American Lung Association that states brisk walks are as good as runs for lowering the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Most compellingly, a recent report issued through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that brisk walks can potentially increase your life expectancy by up to 15 years.
Six Different Kinds of Walking
Did you know there are different ways to walk? As Healthline points out, the type of walk you choose should correlate to your ultimate fitness goals.
Just as there is a big difference between the potential health benefits of a short sprint versus an extended marathon, so too will you find different types of walks offer different perks.
So let’s take a closer look at the different ways to walk for exercise.
Leisure walks are great for taking in nature, deep breathing, meditation to still the mind or simple enjoyment. A short leisure walk is also a great method for cooling down after a more intense workout.
But this is not the type of walk that you would typically choose as a form of exercise unless you are recuperating and your healthcare professional specifically advises leisure walks only.
If you have never seen a speed walker in action, these walkers can be a pretty amazing sight to behold.
Sometimes called “race walks,” this type of walk is a bona fide Olympic event, complete with record-breaking champions.
Speed walkers readily reach speeds of 3 mph or greater, using special walking techniques that can at time make it appear that they are in a slow jog, but without the pounding impact to the knee and hip joints that a true run can produce.
Power walks are a faster form of speed walks, with walkers aiming for a pace that may range anywhere from five to 10 mph.
This walk type is closer to the true Olympic race walk and is also the closest to jogging in terms of calories burned per hour of exercise.
A weighted walk can be another way to get in a good workout that combines elements of strength-training and cardiovascular fitness all in one.
Weighted walks add weights based on your fitness goals. Common areas to add weights can include weighted vests, ankle weights, wrist weights or handheld free weights.
Incline walks can be done on an elevated treadmill or out in nature – if you like to hike, this type of walk will be a perfect fit for you.
Incline walks add both strength and cardio benefits to your walk time.
High-intensity training, or HIT training, has become a phenomena of late given how time-pressed the average American is today.
According to Prevention, even a short 10 to 20 minute interval walk, with a lower-intensity 5-minute warmup and cool down walk, can deliver important health benefits, including a boost in energy, fat and calorie burning, better physical strength and muscle tone.
Does a Walk Burn Calories As Effectively as a Run?
Health expert Dr. Andrew Weil states that, on average, a brisk walk burns half as many calories per mile as a brisk run.
Dr. Weil offers this formula to help you calculate the number of calories you will burn in each scenario:
How much you weigh (lbs.) x 0.63 = number of calories burned per mile jogged.
How much you weigh (lbs.) x 0.3 = number of calories burned per mile walked.
When using a walk purely for exercise, Science Daily recommends aiming to take 100 steps per minute (2.7 miles per hour) during your walk to get a good aerobic (cardiovascular) workout.
Whether you choose to measure steps or miles, if you can walk three miles in under 45 minutes, you have just given yourself a very good aerobic workout.
Which Walk Type Is Best for You?
Whenever you are planning to add a new fitness routine to your regular daily health program, it is always smart to talk with your healthcare provider first.
This can especially be wise when you are still recuperating after a significant injury or illness or when you are taking certain medications. In many cases, your healthcare professional can even provide a personalized exercise prescription from WebExercises to guide you in building a routine that can grow with you over time.
As with any type of new workout program, the best way to determine which walk type is the best one for you is to first consider your personal health and fitness goals.
These are the three main reasons people decide to add walk-based exercise to their fitness routines: losing weight and burning fat, building muscle and strength and increasing aerobic endurance.
So now let’s take a general look at which of the six basic walk types might be the best choice for meeting each one of these three health and fitness goals.
Lose weight and burn fat
For losing weight and burning fat, you want to pick a walk type that will increase your body’s ability to burn calories.
Speed walks, power walks, incline walks and interval walks are all great walk types to pick when your primary goal is to lose weight and burn fat.
Build muscle and strength
For building muscle, your primary fitness goal falls under the umbrella of strength training.
The hands-down best walk type to meet this goal is the weighted walk. However, if you plan to use weights during your walk interspersed with rest periods (wise to avoid injury when you are just starting out), the interval walk is the perfect choice.
Increase aerobic endurance
Increasing aerobic endurance, including lung capacity and heart function, falls under the umbrella of cardiovascular fitness.
The best walk types for this goal include speed walks, power walks, incline walks and interval walks.
The Best Approach to Start Walks for Fitness and Health
The esteemed Mayo Clinic offers specific recommendations to factor in when beginning a fitness routine that includes walks.
Get the right apparel and footwear
The first step you need to take – literally – is to make sure you have the right footwear. It can be helpful here to have your walk evaluated by your healthcare professional.
You want to pick shoes with good arch support, ankle support, heel support, shock cushioning and overall support. You also want your shoes to have anti-slip bottoms, especially if you plan to walk outside.
Also be sure you are wearing skin-protective moisture-wicking socks that are comfortable – not too thick or too thin.
Begin and end with a warmup/cooldown walk
The easiest way to avoid injuries such as overuse strains and surprise sprains is to do a warmup and cool down before and after you walk.
This can just be a slow walk that ramps up as your muscles warm up. Or you may prefer to do some stretches first.
Pay close attention to how you walk
A fitness walk is not the same as a leisure walk. You have a specific goal in mind and you want to be sure your posture, gait and approach moves you closer to your goal with every step you take.
Keep your head up and your abdominal muscles tucked to protect your lower back. Keep your back straight. Allow your arms to swing without tensing. Each step should include full foot-to-ground contact from heel to toe.
Learn How to Walk From the Pros
daily walk into a chance to achieve a healthier, trimmer body? Why not learn to fitness walk from the professionals?
Contact your health care provider for a WebExercises prescription that is personalized and tailored to your specific health condition and fitness goals. A WebExercises prescription can get your fitness walk program off on the right foot so you are looking and feeling your best quickly.
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We understand the challenges that clinicians face on a daily basis: lack of patient engagement, high drop-out rates, time-crunched clinicians. We developed a solution for you and your patients that provides you with great clinical education, efficient and evidence-based exercise programming, and an engaging patient experience . To find out more how WebExercises can improve your practice call us 866-411-4825 or visit webexercises.com.