Sunday, May 13, 2012

Walking as Exercise? Train with Intention!

How many of us have heard the statement: "Walking is the best form of exercise."?  My first reaction is: "Well, no.  Walking is actually an essential component required for day to day life as humans.  In a relatively healthy or mobile individual, it is a non-negotiable."  As a strong advocate of strength training for EVERYONE capable, I'm always baffled by the fact that people think walking alone will get you in shape.  In my opinion, walking is only a SOLE form of acceptable exercise if you A) have been sedentary for a long time B) are extremely overweight C) are elderly D) are incapacitated in some way (amputee, paraplegic, extreme illness, restricted by a doctor E) are very pregnant.

But besides my personal opinion, let's look at some of the reasons that walking is simply not enough exercise for the human body:

1) Intensity and effort are missing from the "walking" form of exercise, therefore it will not produce significant changes or improvements in health and fitness unless you fall into one of the categories listed above.

2) We are meant to do so much more!  Think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors!  They had to run, climb, crawl, lift, and have serious mobility, to name a few.  As a species, we would have died off a long time ago if walking was the most we were capable of.  Cavemen didn't have grocery stores and drive-thru windows.  They had to work for their food.  We are, for the first time in history, in a position where there is an overabundance of food, hence the obesity epidemic.  We no longer have to work for our food.

3) Caloric expenditure and lack of muscle engagement simply cannot counterbalance food intake.  For example, a 140lb person walking at 4 miles per hour will burn about 288 calories in one hour.  That's the equivalent of say, 4 Oreos or half of a fancy Starbucks drink.

4) There's no "after-burn."  You know how after you've had an intense training session even after you've showered you annoyingly can't stop sweating?  That's actually a great thing because your metabolism is fired up and you're burning more energy both during your workout and at rest.  Try getting that from a walk.

5) Your muscles aren't getting stronger, your heart rate isn't elevated high enough, and you're not becoming more flexible.

6) If it's comfortable, it's not intense enough!  If exercising was "comfortable" everyone would do it.  If you challenge your body appropriately you will be sweating, out of breath, and tired by the end of your workout.  Do it enough times and you'll learn to love it!

***Fun Fact: Elliptical machines overestimate calories burned by up to 40%.  Keep that in mind!

Is walking better than nothing at all?  Absolutely.  But anyone who is able should be combining strength training, flexibility training, and cardiovascular training.  If you train smart, you can accomplish all of that in around 30 minutes, which certainly beats the 3 hour brisk walk you'd have to go on to burn the same amount of energy!

The human body is absolutely incredible in what it is capable of doing, whether lifting tremendous amounts of weight, running a marathon, or performing in Cirque Du Soleil.  We don't all have to be Olympic Athletes, but do I believe we should exercise with the intention of finding the best version of ourselves.  We cannot view exercise as a dreaded chore because we will never learn to be consistent with it that way.  When I train, I know I'm becoming stronger, moving more efficiently, and working toward my goals with each session.  Nothing has given me the confidence and awareness that strength training has.  Not the 20 years of dancing, 10 years of yoga practice, and all of the other forms of exercise I've experimented with.

To have a strong body and mind is worth every moment of muscle burning, every bead of sweat, and every extra minute of couch time you give up.  There are so many busy people in the world, but no matter what your work hours are like or how many kids you care for, exercising with intensity and INTENT is a non-negotiable. 

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