Man has spent centuries on packaging the world into a neat space with a roof, lights, and climate control. We tell ourselves that we are advanced, evolved beings because of this. But we’ve got it wrong.
The modern fitness world has spent billions of dollars developing machines and advertising these to you in order to keep you fit and healthy. But they’ve got it wrong too.
After sleep and food, which is in the next chapter, walking is the single most beneficial thing you can do for yourself.
A twelve-year study in1998 by Hakim et al found that men who walked less than a mile per day died at a rate double that of those who walked at least two miles per day.
A 2015 study by Zhao et al found that for men without critical diseases found that Walking ?2 hours/day was significantly associated with lower all-cause mortality. For men with critical diseases, walking 1-2 hours/day showed a protective effect on mortality compared with walking <0.5 hours/day.
A ten-year study in 2015 by Dwyer et al showed that increasing your step count to 10,000-steps/ day lowered risk of death by 46%.
A nearly ten-year study in 2013 by Williams and Thompson found some amazing things relating to walking:
Walking slower than 24.19 minutes/ mile (equivalent to 400m during a 6-minute walk test) show the highest risk of death from cardiovascular disease, heart failure, and dementia.
The risk of dementia increases 6.6% with every extra minute per mile. That is to say, that the slower you walk the more likely you are to develop dementia. During their test they found that the slowest walkers had a nearly three times more likely chance of developing dementia than the fastest walkers.
An decrease in min/ mile pace led to a 2.4% greater chance of cardiovascular disease, a 2.8% increase in risk for ischemic heart disease, a 6.5% greater risk for heart disease, and a 6.2% increased risk for hypertensive heart disease.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been found to be highly associated with obesity. That also means that it can be a pre-cursor to diseases that stem from obesity such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Do you know what the number one source of Vitamin D is? It’s the sun. This is one of those things where modern gyms have almost got things right but then failed right when it counts. They provide a way for you to increase your walking daily by having treadmills available but they’re inside and under a bunch of fluorescent lights that don’t help you get any Vitamin D. While I understand that sometimes a treadmill is useful – like if it’s cold, dark, snowing, or possibly unsafe to walk the streets – then it’s a great way to add some walking to your day. However, if it’s not cold, dark, snowing, or unsafe it’s probably bet to just walk outside so we can maximize the benefits and absorb as much Vitamin D as possible.
But the benefits of walking don’t just stop with Vitamin D and mortality rates. On a short-term basis walking can help to counter regular daily stress. When paired with sleep it becomes a powerful one-two punch to allow you to turbo charge your recovery.
How can adding more movement to your day help, you ask? Surely everything has a recovery cost? In most cases that is true. Loaded walking, such as farmer walks or rucking, definitely has a recovery cost. However, unloaded walking has a recovery benefit. It’s like moving meditation when it comes to lowering stress hormones in the body and gently coaxing us back to a more recovered state.
For instance, a 2007 study by Morita out of Japan found that walking in nature led to a decrease in stress response and emotions. They measured heart rate variability, blood pressure, pulse, and cortisol as well as subjective measurements of comfort, calm, and relaxation. They found a significant shift in HRV towards the relaxing (parasympathetic) side of the nervous system. Walking calmed the nervous system down. In a world filled with stress, instant messaging, and lack of sleep walking definitively calmed the body down.
This was backed up with a 2017 study by Di Blasio et al that found that post-menopasual women had a significant lowering of cortisol provided they walked daily. Those who walked sporadically did not see any significant reduction.
But we’re still not done with walking…
One of the things I always do is benchmark. I take notice of what the best in an area do and try to emulate it. When it comes to being lean and muscular bodybuilders have it right. Forget the excessive drug use and being as big as a house. At its core bodybuilding is about having a lean and muscular physique – something I am sure many would want.
If you ever spend time with a bodybuilder you will notice one thing when it comes to their cutting phase – there is never any HIIT work. None. Zero Zip. Zilch. Nada. The reason is simple – it is too costly and can actually result in decreased muscle mass. Bodybuilders have intuitively grasped the elements of recovery necessary for muscle growth and, in an effort to always optimize growth, spend the rest of the time doing the minimum they can to get the best result. And that result comes from low impact, easy effort cardio. In other words, they will go for a slow walk.
If you’re a 200lb/ 90kg male you’ll burn roughly 400cal/ hour walking. That may not sound like much, and in relation to many other activities like running (~700-1000cals/ hour) it isn’t. However, remember that walking lowers stress, allows you to absorb Vitamin D, and helps you live longer, so maybe all exercise isn’t about the calorie count. But even with all that taken into consideration, if you walk for an hour a day you’ll burn 2800cals/ week (400 calories x 7 days). One kilogram of fat has 9000 calories. That means that an hour of walking a day will help shave one kilogram (2.2 pounds) off your waistline over a three-week period. That amounts to 17lb/ 8kg over the course of a year – and all with no actual food restriction to achieve it. Who wouldn’t like to lose 8kg of fat over the next twelve months?
However, a more likely scenario for hard training individuals is that if you haven’t got your food nailed down correctly it’s very likely you’re going to over fuel slightly. Having a 400-calorie/ day buffer to take care of any accidental over eating might be extremely useful.
From health and vitality to fat loss and cardiovascular training walking is an amazingly powerful tool. We’ve had great success with walking as a species for the last 650,000 years. You need zero equipment and it’s low impact/ high reward. Add walking daily into your week today and you’ll see the benefits almost immediately.