Should you be walking every single day? Is one long walk better than multiple shorter ones? And how fast should you be walking?

There are lots of reasons walking is so popular. Walking boasts all the health and fitness benefits of other low-intensity steady-state cardio (LISS) workouts.

Walking is convenient and accessible. You don’t need a fancy gym or a lot of equipment to walk, it is customisable to your personal ability, and it’s good for people of all fitness levels and ages.

But are the glories of walking overrated? Here we bust a few myths and back up the cold hard truth about walking as exercise.

1. Myth: Walking 10,000 Steps a Day Is Ideal

Many people use 10,000 steps as a benchmark for a daily goal, but this number actually originated as part of a marketing campaign rather than coming from scientific evidence, explains Amy Bantham, DrPH, CEO and founder of Move to Live More, a health and fitness consulting company. Bantham has conducted research on physician exercise referrals and patient exercise behaviour change.

There isn’t yet conclusive scientific evidence showing that this number is the ideal target for better health than a lower daily step count, Bantham says.

One study however, did show that walking more steps each day was incrementally linked to more benefit when it came to a reduction in cancer and heart disease incidence, as well as mortality up to 10,000 daily steps, at which point the benefit leveled off.

Anthony Wall, personal trainer and director of international business development for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), says what is clearer from the research is that more steps are generally linked to more benefit.

A meta-analysis attempted to determine the minimal and optimal daily step count to improve one’s health, analysing over 111,000 people across 12 studies.

Just about 2,600 and 2,800 steps per day moved the needle, decreasing death from any cause by 8 percent and reducing cardiovascular disease risk by 11 percent, respectively, compared with 2,000 steps per day.

Benefits peaked at 8,800 steps per day.

The bottom line is that the jury is still out on an exact minimum number of daily steps that delivers the most benefit. And while step counts are good tangible goals that work for many people, there are other good fitness markers like time and frequency, Wall says.

2. Fact: Walking Helps With Blood Sugar Control

When you participate in physical activity, you encourage your muscle cells to soak up glucose from your bloodstream for energy, decreasing your blood sugar in the short term and helping maintain insulin sensitivity over the long-term, according to the American Diabetes Association. These things help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and the complications that come with it.

And while any type of exercise is good for regulating blood glucose, walking is especially effective when you do it after eating.

A systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that walking for just two minutes after eating a meal effectively decreased blood sugar better than standing or simply sitting. This can help people with diabetes or prediabetes manage their blood glucose, as well as help others improve their metabolic health.

Other research found that getting out “as soon as possible” after a meal is best rather than waiting to walk. That research also points out that since walking can minimise blood sugar spikes, it may also help lessen inflammation and protect your heart.

3. Myth: Walking Can Cure Depression and Anxiety

Most exercise is associated with mental health benefits, but in most cases no single exercise, like walking, can itself cure a clinical disorder.

How does walking affect mood? Most people operate in a sympathetic or more stressful state, says Michael Fredericson, MD, sports medicine physiatrist, doctor, and surgeon at Stanford Medicine in California, and exercising can bring a person into a parasympathetic or more relaxed state.

“Over time, consistent exercise releases proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better,” he explains.

However, that doesn’t mean that exercise is all you need for your mental health. If you have situational depression — that is, a reaction to a stressful, but short-term period in one’s life — then measures like physical activity and finding support from family and friends may help move the needle for you, says Dr. Fredericson.

However, if you have clinical depression, then seeking out professional help is a must, as therapy or medication may be needed, he adds. It can be dangerous to self-treat on your own, and walking will not be an adequate therapy for a mental health disorder.

4. Myth: Running Is Always Superior to Walking

Walking is a low impact exercise that offers benefits such as promoting endorphin release, increasing blood flow to the body and the brain, and improving bone health, without exerting the extra strain on your joints, Bantham says.

For the general public, walking is easier on the body than running, Fredericson says, and there is less chance of injury. Plus this low impact activity is something that everyone can do. Running is more of a skill, and some people have bodies that better accommodate this type of activity, he says. Hip and knee alignment, body weight, and the shape of your foot’s arch can either predispose you for issues or lead to your success when running, he says.

A lot of people ask should they run or walk, Wall adds, and it comes down to one simple thing: What is your goal?

If you are looking to get fit and improve things like oxygen capacity and CO2 output, then running is a better tool, he says. If you are looking for things like blood pressure reduction, feeling better, or better sleep, walking is better for this.

Moderate to intense walking can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes when expending the same amount of energy as running, research has found.

5. Myth: You Shouldn’t Walk Every Day of the Week

Because walking is a low-intensity activity, it is perfectly reasonable for people to get out and walk each day, Wall said. “If you think about any population in a city, people are walking every day,” he says. “One of the benefits is it’s something that most people (assuming they don’t have pre-existing conditions), can do on a daily basis.”

However, if you are really exerting yourself on your walks, Fredericson says, then it might be good to take one rest day a week or incorporate other forms of exercise like cycling or swimming into your routine.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking) a week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (such as running) a week for substantial health benefits.

6. Fact: You Must Walk Faster to Burn More Calories

While any activity burns calories, the more intensity you bring to your workouts, the more calories you burn. That’s true for walking too. The number of calories burned in a given workout depends on the individual’s weight and body composition, Bantham says.

Harvard Health published comparisons of calories burned in 30 minutes based on the activity and weight range. A 155-pound person burns 133 calories per 30 minutes of walking at 3.5 miles per hour, and 175 calories per 30 minutes of walking at 4 miles per hour.

That means if someone’s goal is fat loss, you’re going to need to walk at a higher intensity or walk for much longer than other activities to see those desired results, he says.

To make your walks more of a challenge and to up the number of calories burned during your walk, intervals (alternating between higher and moderate or lower intensity periods of movement) can be very effective, Fredericson says. Incorporating intervals is great for fitness because your heart rate is more elevated than when you take a leisurely walk, ultimately burning more fat and calories. For another approach to intervals, you can also walk on an incline to increase the intensity, either on a treadmill or outside on the road or trail.



7. Myth: You Have to Walk 30 Minutes Continuously to See Health Benefits

Based on the HHS Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans’ goal of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, Wall recommends people walk 30 minutes every day, five times a week to reach this baseline.

A common misconception, however, is that you must complete these 30 minutes consecutively, Fredericson said. You can break it up into smaller segments and walk 5 to 10 minutes at a time multiple times throughout the day and still get the same benefits of walking 30 minutes once in a day, he says, something that’s also supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

8. Fact: Silent Walking Is Good for You

Silent walking means taking a walk without distractions.

No podcast through your earbuds, no chatting with a friend on the phone, or no walking playlist to listen to.

Proponents of silent walking say that silent walking allows you the chance to be alone with your thoughts and practice what could be thought of as a moving meditation.

While there isn’t research on “silent walking,” there is evidence in a systematic review to show that meditative and mindful walking is beneficial for generating positive emotions, decreasing distress, and reducing blood pressure.

But that doesn’t mean that walking and not being silent isn’t good for you. If the promise of a podcast, a catchy tune, or a conversation with a friend gets you on the treadmill or out the door, then consider that a win.

9. Myth: Indoor and Outdoor Steps Yield the Same Results

When you’re walking outdoors, you’re traversing terrain that changes (such as a shift in elevation) and different surroundings (such as green space) compared with indoor treadmill walking. And those differences may matter.

One study that compared the effects of indoor versus outdoor walking found that “green” exercise – that is, being outside in a natural environment – helped people achieve a higher average heart rate compared with indoor walking, even though they didn’t feel as if they were exerting themselves more.

The outdoor walk session also improved their feelings of energy. (Treadmill walking did not.) The authors concluded that walking outside might be more enjoyable and help people stick with exercise.

But if you aren’t able to go outside. know that your indoor steps are still certainly worthwhile.

SOURCE: Everyday Health