Squeezing in exercise in today’s hustle-and-bustle world can sometimes be too much of a burden. Our busy lives make us want to spend our free time doing nothing but relaxing and generally rewarding ourselves with well-deserved time for laziness. I’m a fan of sleeping and doing nothing myself, but we need to exercise if we want to stay in good physical health. By good physical health, I mean making sure we don’t let our age get the best of us. The kind of exercise we need for general health maintenance is not as taxing as the ones you see on TV or YouTube videos, and walking happens to be one of them.
Which type of walking should you go for? Treadmill walking or ground walking? Recent studies say both are beneficial, but what would work best for you? Before we get to that, let’s first have a short discussion on why something as trivial as walking is suddenly great exercise.
Is Walking a Waste of Your Time?
Walking is effective exercise because there’s just no avoiding it. You start walking the moment you get up from bed, you walk out to the car or bus stop, and you walk inside a building into your office. Walking is a necessary part of life. Many fitness professionals and health experts say walking is an underrated physical activity. Many people take it for granted by not appreciating its many health and fitness benefits.
What makes walking a good exercise? Here are a few reasons:
1. No Expensive Gadgets Needed
Walking is not like traditional exercises requiring lots of iron and rubber matting. When you decide to go for a walk, the only gear you’ll need are a pair of shoes (or go barefoot if you want). Being minimal means, you can go for a walk virtually anywhere and anytime you want. You can choose to walk back and forth inside your house, up and down a short flight of stairs and walk to and from work.
2. Burns More Calories Than You think
Walking is a physical activity and, as with all physical activity, it burns calories. A study from the Department of Kinesiology at the Human Performance Laboratory at California State University in San Bernardino, notes walking a distance of 1,600 meters (or 1,700 yards) at a pace of 86 m/min (or roughly a 19-minute walk) can burn around 500 calories.
The good thing is you don’t have to consciously time yourself when you walk since walking is part of our everyday routine. Imagine if you decided to walk more often than you’re used to? The caloric expenditure will add up until you realize you’ve lost a few inches off your waistline.
3. Look Tall and Lean
Proper posture isn’t all about standing or sitting. There is also proper posture when it comes to physical movement such as walking. Having a good walking posture keeps your body in alignment. Likewise, the exact opposite, such as crouched posture, results in reduced muscular function and performance. From your neck down to your knees and feet, your joints stay aligned and are, therefore, more stable and healthier overall.
As you walk faster, your muscles double their effort in keeping you upright and steady. These are the same muscles that you use to sit up tall and to carry yourself with good posture. Although walking by itself helps to strengthen these muscles, you also want to think about your posture as you walk, especially when you want to prevent unnecessary muscular pain and fatigue.
4. Skyrocket Your Endorphins
We’ve all experienced having days (or nights) where we just feel like we needed a walk. We thought walking could somehow make everything better. As it turns out, our instincts were onto something.
A study from the Department of School Nursing and Health Education in Aichi University in Japan suggests walking can indeed improve our mood and some experts believe it to be due to how walking itself is a form of aerobic exercise, the kind of exercise known to stimulate your endorphins or your feel-good hormones.
5. Helps Fend Off Hidden Killers
Since walking is an aerobic exercise, it goes without saying that it also provides similar health benefits. Some of the diseases prevented by regular aerobic exercise are a roster of heart and lung diseases, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, cognitive decline and even some cancers.
One of the best things about walking is that you do it regularly. It’s something I’m sure we all do much more consistently than exercising.
Treadmill vs. Ground: Which Is Better?
So, walking is good for you. It can boost your mood, prevent all sorts of diseases, get you looking lean and strong and is essentially a cheap form of exercise. Going back to the original question, should you go for a walk on the treadmill or is it better to pound the pavement? Let’s see what both sides have to offer.
Perks of Treadmill Walking
- You don’t have to worry about the weather: One of the best things about using treadmills is that it’s a type of indoor gym equipment. Being indoors means you can go for a good walk, regardless of whether there’s a storm outside, if the snow’s too deep or if it is so hot that you can literally fry an egg on the pavement. Whether you like it or not, using the treadmill practically eliminates the “I have no time” excuse from your “why I shouldn’t exercise today” list.
- You can do more exercises: The fact that treadmills are found indoors means that there’s a strong chance that other exercise equipment is also available within arm’s reach. According to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, being in the presence of fitness equipment helps motivate people to work out more. This means you can just waltz right towards the squat rack or spin bikes when you’re done walking.
- Adjustable inclines make for a power workout: Treadmills allow users to customize the difficulty of their walk, which not only leads to burning more calories but also strengthens bones and leg muscles further. If you also want to strengthen your core, a 2016 study by Tehran University of Medical Sciences suggests treadmill walking is better than ground walking for people with weak core muscles.
- Track your progress: Most treadmills allow the user to monitor a few metrics, such as calories burned and distance covered. Some even have a built-in heart rate monitor and more. These trackers are necessities when a user is trying to quantify their efforts for their goals, especially when it comes to weight loss.
- Free built-in programs: You no longer have to check the internet for great walking programs since most treadmills have them preinstalled.
Perks of Ground Walking
- No gym membership needed: Walking outside is as simple as walking outside. You don’t even need to wear a pair of shoes if you’re comfortable with a pair of sandals or even slippers. You also don’t have to worry about the gym hours of business.
- You get more vitamin D: Half of the world’s population is said to be deficient in vitamin D. This makes getting sunlight more of a necessity than a luxury. People who walk outside often walk when the weather is permitting, especially when it’s sunny. Getting more sun means getting more vitamin D, which makes your body function better and protect itself from diseases.
- It’s not repetitive or boring: Walking outside allows you to see nature for what it is. You get to see the sky, trees, buildings, rivers and lakes and maybe a few friendly animals on the way. The roads you take can also vary depending on your mood. One time you might choose to go for a quick stroll around your neighborhood and the next time could be walking in the woods or on the beach.
- Keeps your brain aware of its surroundings: Walking on different types of terrain and seeing different sights makes your brain do more work than when you are on a treadmill. It’s called proprioception or the constant awareness of your position, location, orientation and movement of your body parts. Because the walking surface, whether it be concrete, grass or a trail, is slightly modified with each step, you must integrate these changing perceptions to maintain a comfortable stride or at least keep yourself from stumbling.
- You get to see people: You can meet all sorts of people while walking outside. You might meet people who share the same fitness enthusiasm as you or you might end up seeing a good friend after a long time. You can even walk with someone and explore the area like tourists. This is helpful when it comes to staying motivated, especially if you’re an extrovert.
Choosing to walk on a treadmill or outside all comes down to your personal preference and goals. Treadmill walking allows you to walk virtually any time of day, lets you choose the level of difficulty of your walk and can track your progress for the day. Ground walking doesn’t require membership, will always offer visual variety and you can also meet new people as a bonus.
Whether you run on a treadmill or out on the road, the evidence is clear: Walking is great exercise and walking more is highly recommended.
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