walking for fitnessBy Dr Joe

If you have doubts about the benefits of walking, then you are missing out…big time.

If you are not aware of it yet, there is a recommendation that we should be looking to walk 10000 steps a day to reap the benefits of walking i.e aim for optimum health.

Some people might argue that walking 10000 steps a day will not make a blinding difference to one’s health or put in another way, there aren’t any benefits to walking the recommended 10000 steps.

Usually the people on that side of the fence are individuals who believe that, jogging is it. If you aren’t jogging, you are not going to see any benefits to your health. Well these individuals are wrong!

On the face of it you might think these folks in favour of jogging are right because yes, jogging looks more strenuous and looks more of a vigorous workout than walking. But when you look at the scientific evidence, the two exercises aren’t so far apart as far as the health benefits are concerned.

Pushing yourself hard on the jogging front might look like a good idea at the time but you may have a change of heart and take things a lot more slowly by walking or jogging less. Especially when there are no significant overriding benefits of jogging over walking.

Why Jog when you can walk: Jogging vs Walking

Here is an anec dote.
If you spot a cardiologist who used to jog or run if you like, practically every day for decades, because he believed jogging was better for his cardiovascular health than walking…
…but now hardly ever jogs but walks instead, then you should take notice. He should know, shouldn’t he?

His name, James O’Keefe. He is a cardiologist at Kansas City. He invested 2 – 3 hours a day running without fail for years. Moving forward, he now walks not run or jog.

This change in his workout routine stemmed from his own investigation into how intense exercise affects the body and the heart in particular.

He now believes running can be harmful to the heart. The first benefit of walking is actually that walking is kinder to the heart in physiological terms. This is not speculative but a research-based conclusion.

A study carried out by O’Keefe and his colleagues looked at the dose of exercise in relation to longevity or on the flip-side, mortality.

They looked at the effects of pace, quantity and frequency of jogging on 1098 healthy joggers with 3950 healthy non-joggers. Followed the participants up prospectively for 14 years.

In this Copenhagen Heart Study, O’Keefe and his colleagues found that 1 – 2.4 hours per week of jogging was associated with the lowest mortality with optimum pace being slow, surprisingly. Another surprise was that the mortality of non-joggers was similar to those who jogged strenuously.

So what does this mean exactly?
It means if I put in the hard work of running or jogging 5 – 6 times per week, pushing myself hard to breaking point (7mph pace), then my likelihood of death is similar to that of a sedentary non-jogger, right? You have got to ask the question, why bother jogging at a pace of 7 miles per hour if you could walk it?

No one is implying that jogging has no benefits. Indeed, jogging pushes up life expectancy by 6.2 years in men and 5.6 years in women.

The problem is the pace and frequency of jogging needs to be moderate or even slower to get those benefits. Anything more, jogging becomes counterproductive. The conclusion seems to be “To feel just a little breathless but not too breathless”.
At the pace suggested, walking is just as good for your cardiovascular health and overall longevity. If that’s the case, why not just walk then!

James’ opinion as a Cardiologist is that the human heart is not designed for prolonged sustained levels of intense exercise. He believes it is actually more harmful to your cardiac health in the long run (no pun intended).

These intense exercises can lead to micro-tears in the heart when you do intense exercises which would rapidly heal. However, repeated insults to the heart muscle would eventually lead to scarred healing. Walking is unlikely to cause such heart muscle injury, repeated vigorous jogging can.

The one place in your body you don’t want scarring is your heart muscle. Any scarred area in your heart muscle contributes to pumping inefficiency. The result – heart failure and or atrial fibrillation in later years.

beach walking

Walking vs Jogging on the immune system

Exercise is supposed to improve our response to bugs hanging around especially air-borne bugs. The thinking is that the more fit you are the more your body can ward off infections.

The problem is if you engage in too vigorous exercises like jogging habitually, then the evidence seems to be that you lower your immunity. You become susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections with exercises like jogging.

In all honesty, I can attest to that. Every time I push myself so hard I tend to feel “fluey” for the next 48 hours or so. On this account an exercise like power walking which provides you with moderate level of exertion will be preferred option.

Therefore, one benefit of walking or low level jogging is that it will raise your immunity level protecting you from those pesky viral bugs hanging about in the air.

Walking for weight loss

Does walking make you lose weight? This is a question that is often debated because walking is not considered intense enough exercise to accelerate metabolism.

I have looked for evidence and I have to say, there are some studies but proving it beyond reasonable doubt that walking will make one lose weight is always going to be tricky.

Tricky because of the confounding variable of diet. If you designed a study to prove the point of walking and weight loss, how do you go about executing such a study without dietary intervention?

There is that pluralistic conundrum that hangs over studies like that and sometimes we have to accept it for what it is.

One of the better studies conducted regarding walking was the Gordon-Larsen one.
This study had 2 things going for it. Duration – the study was conducted over 15 years and it had a reasonable size of 4995 participants.

Also the authors did their best to account for those confounding variables – non-walking physical activity, calorie consumption and others before reaching their conclusion.

The authors concluded that walking actually had an independent preventive effect on weight gain.
In effect, a benefit of walking is that it will certainly help you maintain your weight at the very least.

A meta-analysis of pedometer-based walking studies appears to also throw some weight behind walking as a weight control methodology.

This meta-analysis included only randomized control studies and prospective cohort studies and the conclusion of the authors support the view that weight loss is achievable with a pedometer-based walking interventions.

However, this weight loss with walking is more likely achievable the longer one pursues this lifestyle choice.
One thing is clear though. When you walk, especially with power walking you burn calories just by virtue of the fact that walking is an exercise in itself. How much calories you burn will eventually depend on the distance, pace and frequency.

In fact, it has been recently identified that the equations programmed into the popular fitness trackers are obsolete. The fitness trackers are underestimating the amount of calories burnt with each effort. They are looking to see how this could be changed to produce a more accurate calorific output figure.
walking for diabetes


Is Walking good for high blood pressure (Hypertension), Diabetes and cholesterol?

Does walking have any effect on high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cholesterol is a popular question often asked?

Yes, walking has been proven to lower blood pressure because of the improved cardiovascular efficiency it promotes. The more you walk, the better the blood pressure lowering effect of walking.

Exercise in general including walking has the ability to relax the muscle fibers that make up the wall of your blood vessels making them more pliable. Relaxed muscle means less resistance to the flow of blood through the vessels when the heart pumps. This results in lower blood pressure because your blood pressure is a product of the resistance in your blood vessels.

Walking good for diabetes?

Yes of course. Studies have shown exercise including walking to be favourable to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. The reason is that exercises like walking reverse insulin resistance. Put in another way, exercise makes you more insulin sensitive.

What does that mean? It means physical activity like power walking makes your muscle cells more responsive to commands by insulin to take up glucose from the blood stream. The result is your blood sugar levels drop to normal levels pretty quickly following a meal. Your body cells become more insulin sensitive when you walk consistently.

The same applies to cholesterol. Exercises like walking have the potential to lower cholesterol too.

Walking vs jogging for high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol?

An interesting study that looked at the effect of exercise intensity on high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol had a conclusion that supports walking as a good enough lifestyle choice for those medical conditions.

The study concluded that brisk walking and vigorous exercise like jogging produced the same benefits for improving diabetes, cholesterol and hypertension. Surprised?

Other benefits of walking include:

Musculoskeletal – walking is good for your sense of co-ordination and balance. The more you walk, the more strength you apply to your muscles and bones making them stronger and fitter for purpose.

Mood – any exercise is good for the mind. Endorphins are released in the brain and you generally just feel good about yourself and happy.

What more can you ask for?
Just walk, folks.

Let us know your experience. Have I left anything out?

Suggested further reading:
1 Obscure Trick To Make ANY Exercise Program More Effective