You’ve no doubt been hearing more over the past few years about the benefits of high intensity exercise.
The research is consistently showing shorter but higher intensity bouts of exercise will get you in shape quicker, positively affect health-risk factors and will help you lose weight to a greater extent than medium intensity, long duration exercise like walking.
Does this mean that walking or other medium intensity exercise has no value? It turns out that walking can produce many health outcomes, including reducing the risk for hypertension and heart disease, improvement in insulin and glucose metabolism, weight loss and bone and joint health.
Many people who either haven’t exercised in a long time, who are out of shape, or have some musculoskeletal problem can’t necessarily do, or won’t enjoy, higher intensity exercise. For these people, walking is a simple activity that requires no special skill or training, and is a low cost activity requiring only a good pair of shoes and, in this region, an umbrella.
Research has found that moderate joint loading such as the type found with activities like walking will improve lubrication and the health of cartilage in the knee and hips by decreasing the markers of joint inflammation. And walkers can burn anywhere from 300-500 calories in a 60-90 minute bout of brisk walking, which is a great benefit to those who would like to lose some weight.
A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed walking in a natural environment versus an urban setting can reduce psychological maladies such as depression. City dwellers have higher risks for anxiety and mood disorders, and are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia than rural people. The specific study showed that walking 90 minutes in grassy, treed area produced no physical differences compared to urban walking, but there were marked differences in brain activity and questionnaire responses.
However, for walking to have a beneficial effect on our physiology, how fast do we need to be travelling? Most people have a ‘natural’ walking speed that the body determines is the most economical for the nervous system and metabolic cost. It is the fastest speed you can go for the lowest cost to your body.
For most people that speed is about 2.5-3 MPH. However, if you want to stimulate the beneficial health changes in your body you have to move a bit faster than your most economical speed. It is a speed that makes you breathe a little more deeply and increase your heart rate. It is a speed at which you might be in a hurry to get somewhere. This usually equates to about 100 steps per minute or 3.5 MPH, but this does vary slightly for variables such as the age of the person.
National health organizations in Canada and the US recommend that you participate in moderate activity like walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day at least 5 days a week. Vigorous exercisers can cut down on the total volume in order to get the minimum required exercise doing the same duration three days a week.
Walking can be great not just for your body but for your mind too.
Kerry Senchyna is the owner of West Coast Kinesiology.