The Hot-Stepper: Benefits of Walking
Updated: May 28, 2021
“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”
― Steven Wright
I love being bipedal. Imagine life as a lowly quadruped, having to crawl everywhere. One of our most evolutionarily defining traits, walking upright is our birthright; we are the only primates who do it. The fossil evidence suggests our ancestors - prior to Homo Sapiens - had been walking for at least six million years. The scientific community disagrees over what led early Hominids to abandon life on all fours but one thing is clear; bipedalism freed the hands for carrying and manipulating tools while allowing for relatively fast long-distance movement. To walk upright is human. Yet with each era of marvelous technological advances, we're inadvertently engineering walking out of existence. Our cultural infrastructure is set up to obviate physical labor. It has been postulated the average caveman walked about 4-9 miles per day. Today, the average American walks 1.5 miles per day (3,000 steps). If we want to stay healthy, we need to do better.
Data suggests daily walking over 7,500 steps up to 10,000 steps will:
Decrease body weight
Improves mood and decreases depression
Lowers blood pressure
Decreases risk for Type II Diabetes
Lowers heart attack risk
Decreases overall mortality risk
Improves cognitive benefits (boosts memory, creativity & problem-solving)
Alleviates lower back pain
When we walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen throughout the body and brain. Moderate exercise has been shown to help individuals perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking regularly also potentiates new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the hippocampus volume, and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them. There is a straightforward link between an active mind and an active body. It is widely accepted that walking influences our thinking and somehow improves creativity. Take, for example, the effect known as ‘Transient hypofrontality.’ This phenomenon occurs when an activity, such as walking, temporarily downregulates the prefrontal cortex of the brain (the part which controls inner thoughts) just enough to allow a different style of thinking. This mechanism is hypothesized to contribute to the creative thought process. At its essence, it is the achievement of 'Flow State'. Many of history's great thinkers were obsessive walkers. Aristotle enjoyed teaching while he walked. His followers (who quite literally followed him as he walked) were known as the 'peripatetics' – Greek for meandering or walking about. Einstein, Darwin, Beethoven, Nietzsche, Gandhi, Kant, and other great thinkers also walked daily to help consolidate their ideas and solve problems. It is hard to believe, but these men did not walk while listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks (which doesn't mean you shouldn't!). The interconnectedness of the psyche and soma is demonstrated time and again throughout history and science.
Movement needs to be built into our daily lives. The easiest way to go about this is by starting a walking practice. Numerous cultures carry out the healthy habit of post-meal walking. Studies show walking after a meal suppresses triglycerides, lowers blood glucose levels and increases fat oxidation. Not only will it make you healthier, but you will also feel better too. Other creative ways to add walking to your day include: taking most of your calls and meetings while on the move; parking farther away from your destination; avoiding cabs; taking the stairs often; picking up food instead of ordering delivery. There are lots of opportunities to add movement to your day. Sometimes the hardest part is starting but if you can manage to make it a habit, it will get easier and easier.
NOTE: The 10,000 step standard was not borne out of any scientific evidence. It was a bit of clever marketing from a Japanese pedometer company in 1965. They named their device the "10,000 step meter" because the character for “10,000” looks sort of like a man walking!
Can you get 'ripped' (attain super low body fat) by walking? Yes, it is quite doable. If walking is the only exercise you are willing to perform, expect to drop weight and gain enhanced health but not get necessarily super lean. If you want to get 'ripped,' in addition to walking, you will need to pay very close attention to your diet and participate in a rigorous resistance training program. For the intermediate or advanced trainee, I recommend walking a brisk 10,000 steps (35-60 minutes) a day, including frequent hill work. For the sedentary beginner, I recommend 3,000 steps a day with a 500 to 1,000 step progression after each week, up to a total of 8,000 or 10,000 steps. Let me be clear, if you are sedentary and add only a few thousand steps a day, you will reap some benefits. However, without changing your diet or progressively adding more time, you will plateau. Walking is easy, painless and can be quite fun. I typically make phone calls, listen to podcasts or meditate about my day while walking.
Cardio Walking Benefits:
Sustainable moderate energy movement is great for fat loss
It's a good tool for active recovery, restoration and rehabilitation
Training stress is reduced
Does not catabolize lean muscle for energy (instead, it protects muscles)
Contributes to the aerobic base and increases VO2 max
Low impact and easy to do almost anywhere
Critical part of N.E.A.T - non-exercise induced thermogenesis
Does not require equipment - you can even do it barefoot
Can be done multiple times a day without having to change or shower
More functional than the bike, elliptical or rower.
Walking may be the best overall exercise for pain relief, mood enhancement, weight management, decreased mortality risk and the environment. It is the most popular form of exercise worldwide. Make it a part of your wellness program - take a walk today.