I love walking, I always have. However, now I have the greatest love and respect I ever had for walking because I care a whole lot more about my health than I did when I was young and invincible. I wholeheartedly believe that walking is better than so many things. This statement is obviously contextual, subjective and for some people, confusing.“Running is better because you improve your heart strength”, whatever. “Weight training is better because you build muscles”, pfft. “Meditation is better because you clear your mind”, uh-huh. You can do all of this while walking.
Now, obviously, if you are an athlete with performance goals your training is going to be specific and you probably won’t rate walking as an effective workout. If that’s the case then fine, you do you. This article is aimed at people who are looking at exercise to manage their all-around health and fitness.
Walking Is Better Than Running
Depending on who you are, what you are trying to achieve, and your schedule, running can be a great exercise option. When I was younger this was certainly my go-to.
The Case For Running
When you are running you will be pushing your body weight away from the ground one leg at a time effectively providing muscle-building benefits of resistance training. The energy required will cause your heart rate to speed up through your fat-burn zone until it can no longer keep up with the energy required and your anaerobic metabolism is activated.
Your anaerobic metabolism jumps in when your heart rate surpasses about 65-70% of your max bpm, this is called your cardio heart rate zone. While the increased oxygen in your blood is burning away at your fat stores, your anaerobic metabolism is utilizing all of the glucose in your blood, and the glycogen in your muscles and organs. Depending on how hard you worked, your body will also be in a state called EPOC (Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption) for up to 48 hours. Basically, this means you continue with an elevated heart rate even when you are inactive as your body recovers. The raised blood oxygen will be burning more calories from your fat stores during EPOC.
All this from a quick and efficient burst of energy, walking can’t compete with that…
Why Walking Is Better
Walking leverages your body weight in the same way as running does, albeit requiring less physical effort. So you are still building up muscles in your lower limbs. In my article, last week about calories burned while walking, I exposed the fact when I walked 10k, I burned only 80 fewer calories than when I had run the same distance.
Raising your walking heart rate is really easy to get to your fat-burn heart rate zone and the health there are benefits are aplenty. Where walking really comes into its own in a head-to-head with its speedier counterpart, is the accessibility.
Walking is something we do anyway, we don’t need fancy equipment or to be at a high level of fitness to take part. It is a low-impact exercise available all over the world completely free. If we choose to exercise with a companion, walking makes it much easier to hold a conversation.
Walking Versus Running
Running burns calories quickly and gives you a period of afterburn that walking is unlikely to give you (although not impossible). Running definitely wins if you are training to be a runner (duh) or you have very few spare hours or little walking in your schedule.
If weight loss is your goal and you are capable of running, you might also consider it, but I have not been convinced it the very best for weight loss.
Running will burn away at fat and muscle, so while you are building muscles in your legs, it is not uncommon that the muscle mass in your upper body will deplete. Reduced muscle mass equates to fewer calories burned while resting. All exercise leads to a reduction in Cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) which is good for your mental health, however intensive exercise like running will also cause a temporary spike in cortisol before the dip. So walking can be a better option if you face mental health challenges like anxiety or stress.
Basically, walking is better than running because it provides most of the health benefits that running brings, albeit on a slightly lower scale. However, it is also more accessible to all and easier to partake. You are less likely to get a stitch while walking, your lower limb joints will not take a beating and you will be unlikely to need more than one good night of sleep to recover.
Walking Is Better Than Resistance Training
Resistance training can be done with straps and/or your own body weight, however, it is most commonly performed with weights. In a gym or at home, resistance training is a great way to test increase your body strength by simulating movements you would not complete in your daily routine. Low weight high rep, high weight low rep, isolating muscles, HIIT, circuits, there is something for in this category for you, whatever your goals.
The Case For Resistance Training
I love the human body, it is so malleable if you learn to communicate with it. Resistance training is effectively a way of telling your body it needs to complete tougher tasks. You lift weights and wear the muscle out, the worn muscle uses protein to repair bigger and stronger than before so the same weight is no longer a challenge to lift. Now, this muscle burns more calories while you are resting so the weight loss benefits are evident.
If you maintain a caloric deficit, your increased muscle mass will burn more fat so your muscle also looks more defined so will give you more confidence (or more of an ego).
The best bit is that with the versatility of resistance training, you can literally focus on any area of your body to improve its strength, size, image, and calorie burn potential. As you get used to one weight, you can just pick up one slightly heavier to keep gaining.
Why Walking Is Better
Walking is resistance training. You are lifting your body weight over and over, increasing your lower limb muscle mass. While weights in the gym are versatile, walking focuses on the largest muscle group in your body (quads) while simultaneously working out your calves and glutes. A few tweaks to your walking form and you can very easily engage your abs, shoulders, and chest and if you want to go full pro, Nordic Walking uses 93% of your skeletal muscles when done correctly.
Walking Versus Resistance Training
I don’t want to repeat myself, but the low impact and accessibility of walking have not disappeared since the last few paragraphs.
When I spoke to the online fitness experts at Team RH about why walking is the best exercise to burn fat, they explained that gym anxiety often prevents people from working out. A problem that walking quite proudly does not have to worry about.
Walking increases muscle mass, albeit mainly in the legs, thus narrowing the advantage of targetted weighted workouts. Resistance training also tends to skip the aerobic element and therefore misses out on the benefits that come with speeding up your circulation through exercise.
Basically, walking wins again for its versatility while being able to at least attempting to match resistance training’s USP.
Walking Is Better Than Meditation
I never said this was only about exercise. Meditation is a great way to clear your mind or see things from an alternate perspective. When done correctly, people can improve productivity and reduce stress.
The Case For Meditation
Meditation can split opinions more than many other subjects. Some people believe meditation to be a bit woo-woo whereas others swear by it. One thing is for sure though, there are a lot of people who are not clear on what meditation is.
I have spoken to people who think of a Tibetan monk in an orange robe, others think of a man with a long beard, sandals and a “meat is murder-T-shirt”. Both are usually imagined with legs crossed chanting “ohm”. However, there are a lot of ways to meditate. You can use guided meditation through headphones to create positive affirmations, sleep better or simply reduce stress.
In fact, meditation is just the art of clearing your training your mind to achieve clarity. You literally just need to find a way to let go of all thoughts and emotions and just be present, and at that moment you are meditating. The benefits are giving your mind a break. Let us compare it to your muscles, if you work your muscles all day every day without rest, you can risk your physical health. Your brain works on the same principle, if you are churning thoughts round and round without a break they could start to damage your mental health. Learning to effectively meditate allows you to give your mind that recovery time.
Why Walking Is Better
Even though in my eyes, walking has won both previous heads to heads, I have to be honest and say, at least in some context, it is clear that running and weight lifting both deliver something that walking cannot. Meditation doesn’t so this one is easier. You can meditate while walking – it is called mindful walking and is one of the reasons why walking is great for your mental health.
What makes walking even better from a meditative point of view, is the forward motion and the neurogenesis. When we are walking there is studies to show that both forward motion and being out in nature make us feel happier. Neuroplasticity is the term for how malleable our brain cells (neurons) are. Neurogenesis is the creation of neurons that occurs when we raise our heart rate through exercise.
Imagine if new brain cells are being born into a world where your mind is clear and stable due to mindful walking, and you had the positive feels from your forward motion and from being out in nature… These could be the ingredients of happiness.
I am not saying walking is the best solution for everything. I am saying, walking is accessible, versatile, and delivers the broadest range of health benefits when compared to other options. If you have the ability, a balanced routine of running, resistance training, and meditation can deliver a healthy lifestyle. However, as barriers start to go up and you have to start crossing activities off of your list, walking has the highest probability of being the last one standing.
That is ok though, because if you have learned anything today it is that walking could the best all-around healthy option. Do you agree with what I have to say? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.