If you’re trying to decide between walking every day and visiting a gym regularly, you must consider the benefits and disadvantages of each. Walking is convenient and free, but it may not be the most effective option if you have serious fitness goals. On the other hand, gyms offer many exercise options, but they cost money.
The major advantage of going to the gym instead of walking is that you can choose from a variety of exercises. If you want to develop muscle, you can lift free weights or use resistance machines. If walking outdoors is difficult or unpleasant due to bad weather, you can walk on a treadmill or use an elliptical or stair stepper machine. If you’re tired of exercising alone, you can take a group-exercise class. Typical classes include dance-based aerobics, high-impact aerobics and kickboxing.
The advantage of walking is that you don’t need to pay expensive fees or travel to a distant gym. Instead, you only need an open area and quality walking shoes. Walking in a scenic location gives you a chance to experience the outdoors. If you own a treadmill, you don’t even need to leave your home to walk. If you set up your treadmill near your favorite entertainment devices, that might help motivate you to walk more often and for longer periods.
This activity will melt away the pounds, tone your flabby bits and leave you on an emotional high. Yet the form of exercise destined to become the fitness trend of 2007 does not require gym membership or a personal trainer. All you need to do is walk.
The disadvantage of walking is that there are more effective exercises. Walking is pleasurable, but your fitness goals might require a more intense activity that burns more calories. A 130-lb. person who walks at 2 mph, a casual pace, for an hour only burns 118 calories, according to the American Council on Exercise. One way to deal with this problem is to intensify your walking. That same person would burn 295 calories by walking for an hour at 4 mph, a very brisk pace.
Achieving Your Goals
To make the right decision for you, you’ll have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each in light of the type of exercise program you need. For example, if you want overall muscle tone, you’ll need to perform resistance exercises. While you can perform many of these exercises at home, the extensive equipment available at a typical gym makes the task easier. Also, gyms often have professional trainers available to help tailor your exercise program to your fitness goals.
“Walking is a refreshing alternative to complicated aerobic routines and overpriced gym memberships,” says personal trainer Lucy Knight, author of a new book on the exercise.
“It is free, enjoyable and already a part of everyday life. All you need to do is correct your technique, walk faster and for longer and you will lose weight.”
There is much evidence of the benefits of walking. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh recently revealed that overweight people who walked briskly for 30 to 60 minutes a day lost weight even if they didn’t change any other lifestyle habits.
Another American study found that people who walked for at least four hours a week gained less weight (an average nine pounds less) than couch potatoes as they got older. Last year, researchers at the University of Colorado found that regular walking helped to prevent peripheral artery disease (which impairs blood flow in the legs and causes leg pain in one-fifth of elderly people).
Walking can even prevent colds and more
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts medical school found that people who walked every day had 25 percent fewer colds than those who were sedentary.
Because walking is a weight-bearing exercise, it can also help prevent the bone disease osteoporosis.
“Bones are like muscles in the way that they get stronger and denser the more demands you place on them,” Knight says. “The pull of a muscle against a bone, together with the force of gravity when you walk, will stress the bone — which responds by stimulating tissue growth and renewal.”
Best of all, walking makes you feel good about yourself. “For people suffering from depression, walking three to four times a week for 30 minutes has been shown to enhance their mood,” says Knight.
Even if a 20-minute power walk at lunchtime is all you manage, after six weeks it could be comparable to a course of psychotherapy, psychologists at the University of Illinois found. Here’s how to walk your way to weight loss and wellness:
How much, how often?
Health experts recommend that we should walk 10,000 steps a day (about five miles) to stay healthy, yet most Britons walk only 4,500 steps. You would probably need to tot up at least 16,000 steps a day to lose weight.
Walking on softer surfaces such as mud, sand or grass also uses more energy than walking on concrete. Every time your foot hits the ground, it creates a small depression so that the leg muscles must work harder to push upwards and forwards for the next step. Walking on cobblestones or rocky ground may have even more benefits.
Physiologists at the Oregon Research Institute have found cobblestone walking lowers blood pressure and improves balance. The uneven surfaces may stimulate acupressure points on the soles of the feet, regulating blood pressure. Because it is challenging, it will also burn more calories.
If joining a gym isn’t feasible, walking 30 minutes a day is an effective way to maintain a basic level of fitness. England’s National Health Service recommends walking 30 minutes a day over joining a gym. The organization argues that walking is easier to integrate into a daily routine than going to a gym, yet still offers many health benefits, such as cutting the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other serious medical conditions.