There’s an eternal chasm between the athletes who think that the only way to do cardio is high intensity interval training and those that think something like jogging or cycling is the way to go.
I’m proposing a third option that every human on Earth needs to do regularly: walking.
I’m not kidding. A brisk walk can do wonders for absolutely every area of your fitness and fitting in a few 45-minute strolls per week — at a pace of, say, three or four miles an hour — is one of the smartest things you can do for your recovery, posture, injury prevention, blood flow, and a lot more. It’s not high tech, it doesn’t look cool on Instagram, and everyone seems to have forgotten its usefulness.
Here’s why you’re missing out if you don’t use walking as a workout.
1. It’s Easy on the Joints
Need to boost blood flow and grease your joints but you’re pretty beat up from those deadlifts yesterday? Walking will do the job, burn a few calories, release a few endorphins, and wake you up better than a hot cup of coffee.
The joint-friendly nature means it can also be a great way to exercise if you’re obese or experiencing problems in your back or knees, all while reaping the following benefits.
2. It Doesn’t Tax Your Nervous System
It’s all too easy for weight training to be taxing on the nervous system. Straining every muscle and firing all your adrenaline to hit heavy compound lifts can be great but if you’re too wiped to do much of anything the next day — or worse, if you’re still wiped but head back to heavy lifting anyway — then your recovery won’t be what it should. Walking is a great middle ground to keep things moving without stressing your system.
3. It Lowers Stress
Hard training stresses the body, and it’s stress from which it needs to recover. Walking is just about the safest exercise there is and barely stresses anything. In fact, when it comes to mental health, it’s been shown to not only lower stress hormones like cortisol, a solid habit of 10,000 daily steps lowers blood pressure and sympathetic nerve activity, meaning that the body moves away from a “fight or flight” sympathetic state and more toward a less stressed, parasympathetic state.(1) Teaching the body to become more parasympathetic is a fantastic tool for improving recovery and lowering inflammation — check out our guide to parasympathetic vs sympathetic nervous system activation to learn more tips.
4. Better Heart Health and Cardiorespiratory Fitness
To be fair, any kind of exercise is good for the heart. What shouldn’t be forgotten is that walking counts as exercise — research published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine has found that 10,000 steps per day reduced blood pressure and yes, even improved cardiorespiratory fitness and VO2 max.(2) That means a better engine for when you do engage in strenuous exercise and high intensity lifting.
Indeed, research that looked at over 33,000 runners and 15,000 walkers found that jogging and walking resulted in similar reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol, and the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Even walking five and a half miles per week at just two miles an hour may reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by over 30 percent.
5. Better Muscle Recruitment
Shoulders back, hips square, core engaged, it’s a bit rich to call walking a full body workout but it nonetheless does work a whole lot of muscles, from little stabilizing ones to the core and upper back. Standing upright and walking helps to loosen tight hips, engage sleepy glutes, even strengthen the core.
6. It’s Good for Your Back
A 2004 study in The Spine Journal found that a single session of walking can reduce low back pain by 10 to 50 percent, and while that’s not to say it always will be helpful — back pain can have countless causes — it’s been said that walking can help nutrients reach the spine and help the spine to adapt to loading.(3) Add that to the posture benefits, and walking is a smart option for any athlete.
7. It Improves Digestion
A post-dinner walk actually is good for digestion. Research has found that a walk after eating helps to speed gastric emptying, helping a meal to work through the stomach.(4)(5) That post-meal sleepiness? This may be a useful tool for combating it. Among diabetic patients, a 15-minute walk after eating also led to lower levels of blood sugar when compared to walking before eating or not walking at all.(6) Other research found it to lead to lower blood sugar overall when it’s made a habit.(7)
[Learn more: 5 things most athletes miss about digestive health.]
It’s common wisdom to avoid sitting when possible, but it somehow hasn’t translated to a lot of athletes that a solid walking habit helps to round out both fitness and recovery. It helps loosen things pre workout, helps you de stress post workout, and helps blood flow and mobility on rest days. Walk more.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image via Sorapop Udomsri/Shutterstock
1. Iwane M, et al. Walking 10,000 steps/day or more reduces blood pressure and sympathetic nerve activity in mild essential hypertension. Hypertens Res. 2000 Nov;23(6):573-80.
2. Soroush A, et al. Effects of a 6-Month Walking Study on Blood Pressure and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in U.S. and Swedish Adults: ASUKI Step Study. Asian J Sports Med. 2013 Jun;4(2):114-24.
3. Hendrick P, et al. The effectiveness of walking as an intervention for low back pain: a systematic review. Eur Spine J. 2010 Oct;19(10):1613-20.
4. Franke A, et al. Postprandial walking but not consumption of alcoholic digestifs or espresso accelerates gastric emptying in healthy volunteers. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. 2008 Mar;17(1):27-31.
5. Lipp RW, et al. Effects of postprandial walking on delayed gastric emptying and intragastric meal distribution in longstanding diabetics. Am J Gastroenterol. 2000 Feb;95(2):419-24.
6. Colberg SR, et al. Postprandial walking is better for lowering the glycemic effect of dinner than pre-dinner exercise in type 2 diabetic individuals. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2009 Jul;10(6):394-7.
7. DiPietro L, et al. Three 15-min bouts of moderate postmeal walking significantly improves 24-h glycemic control in older people at risk for impaired glucose tolerance. Diabetes Care. 2013 Oct;36(10):3262-8.