Walking is one of the best and certainly cheapest ways of exercising. But is it enough exercise especially as we age?
Putting on a pair of shoes and walking around the neighborhood, in the mall, or in the mountains is something that everyone can do without any training. It's how we move around. Easy to do. It's also great for your heart, burns calories, keeps blood pressure down and blood sugars level. How many steps a day should you take? There's debate on that point and I've written a blog that you can read here.
So now that we've established that walking is good for you, here are three reasons why it's not enough:
1. Walking doesn't build muscle strength: There are essentially two different types of skeletal muscles fibers. Slow twitch, or type 1, and fast twitch, or type 2. The type 1 muscle fibers are considered endurance muscles and are designed to be efficient over long periods of time. Think marathon. It would also be the same as the legs of a chicken which get used all the time and are considered dark meat.
Type 2 muscle fibers generate more power and strength but wear out relatively quickly. Think sprinter and, compared to a chicken, the same as the breast, or white meat which doesn't get used that often, if at all.
Each muscle in the body has both types but with different amounts depending on development. Walking develops the type 1 fibers. Strength training, or weight lifting, generally develops the type 2 fibers.
The reason this is important is your ability to perform functional movements - squats, push-ups, lunges, rows, etc. diminishes if these movements are not practiced. The old adage "use it or lose it" applies here.
How to fix it: perform strength training movements at least twice a week so you'll be able to get up off the floor if you fall. Better yet, it will keep you from falling!
2. Walking burns calories while you do it, not after: As noted earlier, walking burns calories to help you lose weight but that effect only lasts while you are walking. Strength training, on the other hand, builds muscle and muscle burns calories. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn while you are doing nothing.
How to fix it: strength train with a target repetition range of between 8-12 for the upper body and 10-15 for the lower body. What that means is you can no longer perform the movement in good form and you muscles fatigue and perhaps even burn a little bit. This will build the most muscle which burns the most fat.
3. Walking doesn't help with balance: Even though walking works the leg muscles in an aerobic way, it doesn't provide the strength needed to improve balance. As you age your muscles atrophy, get smaller and weaker. The weaker a muscle is the slower it responds to outside stimuli like falling. So instead of catching yourself, you fall and hurt or break something.
How to fix it: Make sure to target the lower body with strength training movements and enhance them with balance work. For example, single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts and standing single-leg hip abductions. This builds muscle strength and balance at the same time.
Stand Up Str8 has developed products which help with posture by strengthening the weak muscles responsible for rounded shoulders. Check out the Hands-Free Middle Back Strengthener to help you maintain good posture while on those long walks.