What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word “walking”?
Depending on where you live, your response might be, Why walk when I can drive or ride the bus? Or you may catch yourself thinking that, of all the things you could be doing, walking is about as boring an option as there is.
These responses highlight two reasons why people don’t like walking: it takes too much time and it’s boring. But let’s put walking into the context of fitness. What comes to your mind now?
You might see the occasional person walking on the treadmill, but how often do you see personal trainers, for example, introducing a simple walk as the next exercise in a merciless workout regime? Probably never.
There’s a perception that walking is easy, inefficient and not that interesting.
There’s a perception that walking is easy, inefficient and not that interesting. But did you know that walking is one of the most beneficial activities you can do for yourself? The science behind this and the many documented benefits are something we’ll talk about in the second part of this mini-series on walking.
In this first installment, we really want to examine the general perceptions of walking, why those keep us from implementing walking as a workout option and how we can change those perceptions.
Why Should I Consider Walking When There’s So Much More Out There?
Think about the gym/workout culture today. What’s dominating the habits of the fitness-minded?
We took a peek at a recent Forbes story about CrossFit, the high-intensity workout plan whose website launched in 2000 and is now a $4 billion industry. Reporter Bob Lorenz called it “the exercise craze of the 21st century” and noted its followers “have been known for their cult-like allegiance” to the methodology. A new CrossFit gym pops up every 144 minutes.
CrossFit is intense. And it has, in many ways, redefined workouts from long-drawn out affairs to wildly compact, efficient muscle-builders and calorie burners.
In other words, it has moved the definition of a good workout as far away from the gentle, time-consuming practice of walking as can possibly be.
Why does this matter? Because part of our perception of walking as a boring activity is based on the trends of this specific time in history, and those trends are short, extremely intense workouts.
Our perception of walking as a boring activity is based on the trends of this specific time in history.
Along with the rise of CrossFit is the 7-minute workout craze, in which a series of basic exercises are done in short chunks of time with minimal rest in between. This in-home type of workout has “spawned into a mini industry with 26 smartphone apps, countless YouTube training clips and even a music video,” a 2013 ABC News story said.
At the time of our research, we found no less than 40 different 7-minute workout apps (3 or 5 minutes, in some cases). These two trends point to one principle: we want a quick workout that maximizes our time.
Our Desire for Quick, High-Impact Workouts Has Ruined Our Interest in Walking as Exercise
Fitness companies have convinced us that the best workouts are those that burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time. We’ve followed suit, downloaded quick-fix workout apps and (for some of us) shunned our usual gym membership for CrossFit gyms, whose locations have jump from 13 in 2005 to around 7,000 in 2014.
Set against this dynamic background of time-efficient workout philosophies, walking is a Charlie Chaplin silent film in a world of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Or, as The New Yorker writer Susan Orleans put it in her May 2013 article on walking, “like many runners, I thought that walking was boring. Also, it took too much time.”
She elaborated on the time issue: “The thing with walking, though, is that it really does take a lot of time. When I ran, I could whip through five miles in forty-five minutes, but walking the same distance would take forever.”
But it’s not just a time issue, right? There’s the efficiency problem. Let’s just take a quick look at how long it takes to burn 750 calories via the different exercise regimes we’ve covered:
- CrossFit: About 1 hour
- Typical gym workout: About 75 minutes
- Running: About 90 minutes
- Walking: About 4 hours
These numbers will vary from person to person, depending on their weight and the intensity level of the activity. Overall though, this example gives us enough proof to show that walking is really inefficient compared to other forms of exercise.
Case closed, right? Not quite.
We believe that though comparisons like the one above can be a super convincing reason why walking is a dying workout form, there’s a lot more to it than you think.
But changing our thinking is the trick, isn’t it?
Americans are Falling Behind the Rest of the Walking World
Fitness marketers and advertisements would like us to believe that our obsession with high-intensity workouts puts us on the forefront of the global fitness world. But despite our seeming dedication to all these crazy new workouts, Americans aren’t getting any healthier.
According to Sept. 2015 statistics from nonprofit The State of Obesity, in 45 states 1 in 4 people are obese. That’s not a good number compared to Australia, Switzerland and Japan, for example, where walking is much more a part of the daily routine than it is in the United States.
Americans take about 4,500 less steps per day than western Australians and the Swiss.
A 2010 article from the New York Times revealed that Americans take about 4,500 less steps per day than western Australians and the Swiss, and about 2,000 less steps than the Japanese. All three of those countries have lower obesity rates … about 3 to 16% lower, the article said.
What does that mean for us? It’s time to start doing some exercise.
We believe walking could actually be the key to your health. But before we tell you why (we’re saving that for the next article!), we want to point out some statistics that might make you think twice about parting ways with the wonders of walking.
Sure, High-Intensity Workouts are Helpful. But How Many of Us Really Do Them?
We’ve mentioned CrossFit a few times here because it’s sort of the grand example of the “more benefits in less time” mentality about fitness. There are plenty of other programs out there with the same philosophy; 7-minute workouts are an offshoot of this.
But we were curious as to what kind of people are do CrossFit. The numbers are really surprising:
- 60% of participants are between the ages of 25 and 44.
- More than half earn an average of $150,000 per year.
- 4 out of 10 have post-graduate degrees.
What these numbers tell us is that wealthy, well-educated people gravitate toward these fitness philosophies. But guess what? Most of us aren’t wealthy people with doctorate degrees. And if we’re in our sixties or older, we can’t really handle these supercharged workouts.
The data shows us that most of us are not or cannot be involved in these high-intensity workouts and, on top of that, they’re designed for a very specific age range.
How Many of Us Are Actually Getting the Exercise We Need?
So what do we do if we’re between 15 and 24 or older than 44 (about half the U.S. population)? Well, the answer is that we don’t do much.
We found that only about half of us are meeting the federal weekly requirement of 150 minutes of moderate activity (known as “aerobic activity”) per week.
Half of us aren’t even doing any exercise at all.
The statistics show that even though high-intensity and 7-mnutes-or-less workouts are all the rage, they aren’t helping us get more exercise. In fact, half of us aren’t even doing any exercise at all.
And that’s where we believe walking could be an essential part of your journey to a consistent exercise regime and, more importantly, a healthy lifestyle in which you reduce your chances of chronic sickness.
The Amish Know How to Get It Done
Before we wrap up, we want to leave you with one odd example of how a lifestyle of walking, not insanely crazy workouts or high-impact runs, can actually lead to the healthy life you want.
In 2004, scientists from the University of Tennessee tracked the steps (walking) taken by a group of 90 Amish between the ages 18–75 whose habits, for the most part, hadn’t changed in 150 years. That goes back a long, long way. No internet. No cars. No smartphones. And certainly no 7-minute workouts or high-intensity gyms.
The researchers found 0% of men and 9% of women were obese. That’s about 9 out of 90 people, or 60% less than the United States average. Now, it’s true that these men and women rely on labor-intensive farming for their food. This plays a part in their physical health.
However, we believe this example shows that the most beneficial exercises we need aren’t always the ones that cost you a monthly membership fee. They don’t require a fancy gym or a specific set of equipment … not even a bike or a weight set. All you really need is two feet.
Looking Ahead to Part Two of Our Series on Walking
A lot of us have certain ideas about walking that keep us from stepping out our front door and taking a stroll around the block. It takes too much time and doesn’t burn enough calories, we think.
But, in our opinion, walking is the perfect starting point for a country where half of the people don’t get the exercise they need to maintain a healthy weight.
In our second article about walking, we’ll talk about the health benefits of walking, why it’s a great solution for all age groups and other important concepts we don’t want you to miss.