If you’ve substituted long walks for time at the gym, a new report suggests you may have to start doing both.
According to a review last month from Public Health England (PHE), there was a disconnect between the amount of exercises people needed versus the amount they actually did, the Guardian reports.
In the review, the agency specifically brought up walking, and how adults should not only increase the intensity of walking, but also not solely focus on distance of number of steps — many of us have set 10,000 steps a day as a “healthy” benchmark.
“People’s understanding of walking more and doing aerobic activity, keeping up the heart rate, has grown, but the need for us all to do two sessions of strength and balance exercise a week has been the Cinderella of public-health advice,” Louise Ansari from the Centre for Ageing Better in the U.K., told the Guardian.
Is it good alone?
The report notes while many adults say it’s hard to make time to fit in walks, experts say start with a 10-minute brisk walk.
Personal trainer Amanda Thebe tells Global News walking is the perfect form of cardiovascular exercise most people (of all ages) can enjoy.
“It requires little to no equipment, can be done at all fitness levels and is an easy way to see major improvements in your health. I also like walking for people who might be injured or overweight as it’s low-impact nature can really support their fitness goals.”
She adds multiple studies have shown walking can help with weight loss and managing and even preventing things like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
“I also recommend walking to promote good mental health. If you have depression, anxiety or generally want to improve your quality of life, then walking is well known to improve these,” she continues.
One 2015 study found even walking as little as two minutes per hour can reduce the risk of dying at a young age, while another study from Harvard University found a 15-minute walk could make you crave less chocolate.
Researchers also found it can boost your immune system. “Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least five days a week, had 43 per cent fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder,” Harvard Health Publishing reports.
READ MORE: How to recover more quickly from a workout
But as PHE points out, walking alone is not enough.
“Walking is a form of cardiovascular exercise. Ideally, this should be combined with some type of strength workout, which needs to be done two to three times per week at a minimum,” Thebe says. “As we get into our late 30s, we start to lose muscle mass and open up our risk to osteoporosis or osteopenia, especially in women, so strength training becomes increasingly important.”
Walking and strength training are two completely different forms of exercises, she adds.
“It’s like comparing apples to oranges, so I wouldn’t say walking is not good enough as a stand-alone exercise, rather it must be combined with some form of load-bearing exercise protocol.”
It’s just like running — you won’t get the same benefits from walking as you would do from running. “Running clearly requires more muscular effort and cardiovascular capability, but a brisk walk that gets the heart pumping and the breath a little short has been shown over the long term to have very similar outcomes to your health as a runner.”
To see these results from walking, a person would have to be walking at a decent intensity.
Adding in more steps
And while 10,000 steps per day is a benchmark many try to achieve, Thebe says it can seem intimidating for some.
“The number ‘10,000 steps’ seems to originate from a Japanese walking club in the ’60s who saw huge health benefits, but of course, the Japanese diet and lifestyle are very different from the North American one. Somehow this number stuck,” she continues.
If you have a chronic illness, injury or can’t seem to figure out how to fit in that many steps given your work and home life, start small and combine walking with other types of strength-training exercises throughout the week.
“I would suggest by starting with a 30-minute walk and note the number of steps in that activity. Use this as your baseline and try to make increments on a regular basis. For some, 10,000 steps might just be too little.”