Walking is a great way to relax and also to gain the first level of health benefits available to everyone.
If you are already a walker, that's great. You can boost your gains by adding five level-ups which each deliver you more bang for your walking buck.
If you are not yet a regular walker, then create a plan to get going, and add these level-ups to your program over the next six months. The first month, just walk. Then starting in the second month add one level-up per month.
I exercise at the gym three times a week and trail run 5km twice a week. Also, I walk every day - mostly 3km. I look forward to walking as much as I do to my more intense exercises.
It's mentally therapeutical to be outside walking - and social. And it has useful benefits even for someone like me who exercises intensely. Walking is an effective way to recover from intense exercise; it flushes the muscles and reduces soreness.
The benefits of physical activity depend on three elements: the intensity, duration, and frequency of exercise. The low intensity of walking can be offset by doing it more frequently than more intense exercise.
Like other forms of regular moderate exercise, walking improves cardiac risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular stiffness and inflammation, and mental stress.
And if cardiac protection and a lower death rate are not enough to get you outside, how about these. Walking helps protect against:
Can walking reduce my weight gain?
Before I dive into the level-ups, let's come back to an essential benefit of walking. From middle-age the average male gains 1kg per year and women about half of that.
But wait, I'm sorry to tell you that the real increase in fat is worse. You see, our muscles waste as we age. Therefore, in theory, our weight should be dropping.
If we are not exercising and adding or sustaining muscle, then just by our weight staying the same means we are adding fat. The fat is replacing the weight of our disappearing muscle.
You may have seen the statement "muscle weighs more than fat". That's not entirely true. 1kg of anything weighs the same as 1kg of anything else.
However, muscle is more dense than fat - fat takes up more space in the body than the same weight of fat. When you lose 1kg of muscle - as it wastes - and replace it with 1kg of fat, your body bulges.
Hence, the middle-age spread as bulkier fat replaces your disappearing muscles.
Walking can reduce that fat and regenerate some of your muscle mass. But it is not an overnight cure.
To "burn off" your extra 1kg of fat each year, you need to expend 7700 extra calories. On average, you will use 60 calories per kilometre of walking.
This means you only need to walk 128km per year - about 2.5km per week - to maintain a steady weight. Let's add in another 0.5km a week to make up for the muscle mass which was lost and replaced by fat. That's 3km a week.
Yes, walking can keep you from getting heavier each year.
How far should you walk for best results?
Walking 3km a week is a very achievable target. Most people fail in their exercise goals because they are too ambitious. This is not too ambitious.
In fact, 3km a week is too modest a target. It tells you that you can control your weight gain with a small effort but applied consistently.
It's generally accepted today that aiming for a minimum of 4,400 steps per day is a beneficial goal. Making a 3km walk part of your daily routine will ensure that you will hit that target.
Walking further is better, especially if you up the pace. You could add in two 5km walks each week, for example. But if that's too inconvenient then aim for 3km of specific walking each day.
My top tips: Start your walking at a slow pace, and slow down toward the end of your walk as well. Begin with routes that are well within your range, and then extend your distance up to 3km+ as you improve. The same is true of your pace; begin modestly, then pick up your speed as you get into shape.
Once you have your walking routine going, try adding these level-ups which add to the intensity level:
That's it - my five level-ups to get more from your daily walk.
I do these. The variations add a lot of value to my daily walks. I'm sure they will pay for you also.
Let me know how you go.
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building body-shaping training for people our age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter