There is a long tradition of walking to improve health, burn calories, take in nature, and just to get where you are going, and you can see the positive effects of a society that is centered around walking or using physical exertion to get where you are going. Just take a look at the obesity statistics by country, and you will see that the United States leads industrialized countries in the incidence of obesity. In fact, the U.S. ranks 12th in the world for obesity prevalence with 36.2% of its citizens categorized as obese.
Americans seem determined not to walk, and it is no coincidence that in addition to being the industrialized country with the highest incidence of obesity, the U.S. is also a place whose citizens walk less than any other industrialized country.
But sometimes it is not so simple to go for a long walk. Intemperate weather, lack of open spaces, lack of sidewalks, or lack of access to a track or gym can push even the most inveterate walker to stay inside and figure out some way to adjust their walking routine. Or, as often happens, the would-be exerciser simply loses the motivation to work out at all, and instead, they find that the latest series on Netflix is more compelling than a walking workout.
Walking in place can help with weight loss, although it works best with some specific guidelines and in conjunction with other types of diet modification and strength or resistance training. In this post, we will explore the relative benefits of walking in place (marching) as compared to walking in other settings (like on a treadmill or stairs). We will also take a look at how to make your walking program and exercise routine work for you and help you meet your weight loss goals.
(Note: Want our elite trainers to supplement your walking routine? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)
Benefits of Walking
You will not find a serious study in the world of medicine and exercise science that suggests walking does not provide a myriad of health benefits. Researchers have found a number of physiological benefits to walking regardless of an individual’s fitness level, and it is one of the easiest exercises to pick up unless you are experiencing severe mobility issues (even then, progressing to independent walking is a likely goal).
In a 2010 study entitled “Walking: The First Steps in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention,” published in the medical journal Current Opinion in Cardiology, researchers concluded that a myriad of large observational studies consistently shows a positive correlation between regular walking and cardiac fitness. Lower blood pressure and a lower incidence of heart disease occurred among all populations. Young, middle-aged, old, slender, average, obese, male, female, healthy, and not-so-healthy individuals all found positive health benefits associated with walking. In one sample study, walking was shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% in both men and women in as little as 5.5 miles per week at a casual pace. Hearts clearly love walking.
Prevention of Diseases and Improved Immune System
In addition to improving risk factors like cholesterol and vascular inflammation associated with cardiac disease, walking can also help improve your immune system, ward off diabetes, and help prevent breast and colon cancer. Some studies also suggest that moderate physical exercise like walking even helps with erectile dysfunction and other aspects of your libido and sex life.
Weight Loss or Maintaining a Healthy Weight
One of the things that is interesting about walking is that it produces the same benefits as running, though of course, you may have to walk a bit longer. In fact, distance covered (or steps that are taken) is considered by many experts to be a better measure than pace on calorie consumption, though a brisker walk does burn more calories than a casual stroll when covering the same distance.
Another factor that affects weight loss when walking is your current body composition. For example, a 120-pound person burns about 85 calories per mile walked, while a 220-pound person burns about 135 calories per mile. This level of calorie burn may not seem like much, but when walking is integrated with a restricted-calorie diet and other types of exercise, such as strength training or whole-body conditioning, studies show that the fat loss benefits really start to add up. Walking and strength training are good for loss of belly fat in particular, which is good because excess abdominal fat is an indicator of higher risk for health problems like cardiovascular disease.
So heavier folks burn more calories when walking? This may lead you to think about walking with ankle weights or a weighted vest in order to burn fat. Before you think about walking with weights, check out this post. And if you are looking at other ways to shred fat, check out Jimmy Lewin’s Fit Plan for Fat Loss.
Walking is a low-impact, moderate-intensity exercise, and it can help lubricate and maintain healthy joints (particularly the hips), which helps improve mobility and flexibility throughout your life. Walking and strength training also improve lean muscle mass and reduce body fat, especially when compared to weight loss through diet alone. And if that was not enough, walking improves your skeletal system, bone density, and balance and coordination. So take a walk!
Psychological Health and Mindfulness
Study after study shows that physical fitness, exercise, and aerobic activity improves mental health and mood stability by reducing anxiety and relieving symptoms of depression. In particular, walking in natural environments has been compared to meditation in terms of its effects on mindfulness and being present. Physical health and psychological health are intertwined, and paying attention to one area of self-care in your life (like taking care of your body) often has positive effects on other aspects of your life (like stabilizing your mood and reducing stress).
For information about how mindfulness can improve your eating habits, check out this post.
Walking Is Cheap and Easy
Walking is one of the easiest ways to start addressing your health, but it is also one of the cheapest ways to move your body toward your goals. No one really needs to be trained on how to walk effectively (although we have some tips on the proper form below), and you can walk at every stage of your life with minimal risk of injury.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Walk
Whether you are walking at home, on the streets, or on a treadmill, the tips below will help you get the most out of your walk and reduce your risk of injury.
Use Good Form
Although you have been walking most of your life, checking in on your form will help you maintain your stride for longer distances while reducing unnecessary strain on joints and ligaments. So remember what your parents always said: stand up straight! An erect posture, chin up and eyes forward, is ideal. Now, square your shoulders, and, keeping your back straight, walk.
You are not running, so an ideal stride will be heel to toe. In other words, the heel touches the ground, then the midfoot, then the ball of the foot and toes. If you are walking forward, this movement will come pretty naturally, as will swinging your arms as your move. If you are walking in place, you may need to pay special attention to your form. Avoid leaning back or slumping forward, keep your belly lightly tightened, and raise your knees as you walk in an exaggerated marching motion. This “marching” method is best for walking in place because it forces you to pay attention to form and it gets your heart rate up.
If paying attention to your form feels awkward at first, just relax. The most important thing is to keep moving.
Dress for the Walk You Want
If you are walking outside, try to wear brightly colored and/or reflective clothing. Otherwise, just be sure you are in clothing that moves with you and is not too restrictive. A supportive bra may be helpful for women, and dressing for a walk (even if that walk is just marching in place in front of the TV) helps make the experience more pleasurable.
Wear Good Shoes
Lots of athletic shoe companies design sneakers specifically for walking, but all you really need to do is make sure you are checking out a few key features. A padded tongue and heel pad will help with shock absorption, and a sole that is thicker at the heel will also support good form. A spacious toe box, flexible materials, and a lightweight, breathable upper complete the ideal walking shoe.
Take It One Step at a Time
Walking can seem boring, especially when you are walking in place inside. Some companies have produced virtual experiences that can be accessed through certain kinds of treadmills or via download, but, let’s face it, they aren’t fooling anyone into thinking they are surrounded by mountains. You don’t have to walk in place for hours to get results. Start by taking a desk break or a commercial break and walk in place for 5 minutes. As with any type of exercise, start with smaller goals, and then work your way up to extended walking or a brisker pace.
Raise Your Heart Rate
Walking is an aerobic and endurance exercise, and if your goal is weight loss, you will want to try to raise your heart rate to a fat-burning zone. According to the Mayo Clinic, this means raising your heart rate to 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for the ideal cardio and weight loss benefits.
In a 2012 study published in the Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise journal, researchers found that participants who stepped in place for an hour burned an average of 258 calories. The researchers also found that participants who walked in place only during commercial breaks burned about 148 calories in 25 minutes. These short, small bursts of calorie consuming activities really add up. Over the course of time, burning an extra 150 calories a day through short walks translates to burning or keeping off extra pounds year over year.
Track Your Progress
One of the biggest modern-day rewards walkers experience is when their fitness tracker confirms that they have met their step goal for the day. A good pedometer or fitness watch can help you track your progress over days, weeks, and months, and this kind of motivation can help keep you moving steadily toward your fitness goals. Even if you don’t have a fancy watch or fitness tracking app, a simple pedometer and a spreadsheet or journal can help you keep track of your steps over time.
Intensity, Duration, and Frequency
The American Heart Association recommends moderate physical activity like brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for optimal heart health. Remember that while it’s great to go for a 30-minute walk, you can get to that same goal by taking a brisk walk (or by marching place) in 5 or 10-minute increments.
If you want to measure distance covered while walking in place (like the estimated distance treadmills provide for sessions, factor in about a mile per 2,000 steps. If you want to measure pace and intensity, most fitness experts consider 100 steps per minute to be a brisk pace. But the best measure of intensity is an awareness of your own body’s indicators: sweat, heart rate, breath. If you want to get more out of your walk, you can add in bodyweight exercises, upper body curls, and other interval training techniques to help up your heart rate and get a total-body workout.
Warm Up and Cool Down
If you are taking a longer duration or more intense walk, make sure you start off at a slow pace to warm up and end with a slow pace to cool down. Incorporate stretching after your warm up or after your cool down to allow your muscles to adjust to the full impact of your walk.
Places to Walk
One of the reasons walking is said to produce a meditative effect is that walking outdoors, particularly among trees or other natural settings, has been shown to have a positive effect on mood, sleep, and anxiety. The ancient Japanese art of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, has long sought to embrace this concept. Even if you don’t have access to forest trails, a quick walk through a neighborhood or on a city street can still provide the “away from it all” vibe. But if you can’t get outside, then take a look at some of the indoor options.
If you have access to a treadmill, you have access to most of the monitoring equipment you will need to track your progress, heart rate, distance, and pace. Treadmills are also useful for increasing the intensity of your workout by setting a faster pace or adjusting the level of incline. On average, people burn about 50 more calories per hour when walking on a treadmill compared to walking in place, and this is likely due to the steady speed required when walking on a treadmill.
Walking at Home (Walking in Place)
As we have discussed, walking is great for your body and your mind, and walking in place is no exception. Walking in place is a great option for folks who just need to get moving, especially if they can also walk for short durations. It’s available anytime — you can walk in place at home, during commercials, or even at your desk. The most important thing when walking in place is to pay attention to your form — lift your knees, swing your arms, and keep your chin held high! If you mimic a toy soldier’s march, you are well on your way to walking off excess weight. A winter spent walking in place can mean a spring spent walking with ease among the trees!
Taking the Stairs
Stair climbing can be more demanding than taking a job or lifting weights. It is two times more difficult than brisk walking on a level surface, and it is 50% harder than walking up a steep incline. Peak exertion and optimal heart rate are reached faster, so if you have access to stairs, consider using them to increase your aerobic stamina. One study even found that men who walk at least 8 flights a day have a mortality rate that is 33% lower than sedentary individuals and 11% lower than men who walk over a mile a day.
One Last Step
Walking is great, and walking in place is a decent alternative to distance walking for weight loss, especially if you use good form and ensure you are incorporating other types of exercise such as strength training into your workout routine. As with any type of exercise, the only way you truly lose weight is to create a calorie deficit, so paying attention to what you put in your body is just as important as moving your body.
(Note: Want our elite trainers to help you take the first step towards a healthy lifestyle? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)