Six keys to making sure that something as simple as walking is truly beneficial for your body.
Medical Advisor Jorge Iván Palacio Uribe – Sports Medicine Doctor, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare
In the struggle against living a sedentary lifestyle, when talking about a healthy lifestyle, activities as simple as walking have become more pertinent as one of the most effective activities when talking about a healthy lifestyle. Going for a walk outside and even walking through the mall are some suggestions, but how and how much should you walk for it to have a positive effect on our health?
Walking is an aerobic activity: an activity, “in which a movement is generated and energy is spent,” explains sports medicine doctor, Jorge Iván Palacio. Doing this activity with the right intensity not only has cardiovascular benefits, but also has an overall positive impact: it improves metabolism, keeps blood sugar under control, helps address the inflammatory processes a sedentary lifestyle leads to, and optimizes enzymatic processes that are beneficial to the body. In addition to this, walking is healthy for the mind as it releases endorphins and generates a feeling of wellbeing, while it improves the perception we have of our bodies due to the results obtained. Magical figures such as 10,000 steps per day are often heard of, more than just being a number, various parameters come into play that must be taken into account in order for the exercise to be truly beneficial. The following are some of the main ones.
- Do it for an effective amount of time: To prevent being sedentary and to obtain benefits for the heart when walking, this action should be performed for at least 150 minutes a week, an average of 30 minutes five times a week. Walking for a longer period provides better results at the cardiovascular level. If the goal is to lose or maintain weight, the guideline around the world is to do physical activity for up to 300 minutes per week. The specialist’s suggestion is to “start small, with 150 minutes and, as your physical resistance improves, add more time.”
- Setting a fast pace: The intensity of how fast you walk is one of the most important parameters for measuring its effectiveness. It is not about walking just to walk, taking a recreational walk, or going window shopping. Medical guidelines show that walking should be done with moderate intensity, but how do you know when you reach this intensity? The most practical way to do this is to notice your perception of fatigue when doing this exercise. As Palacio states, “If you are walking and have to take a breath to continue a conversation, this is moderate intensity.” Walking without feeling tired means that the intensity is very low.
- Periods of time: The minimum recommended amount of physical activity per day is half an hour, this is clear. But is it 30 minutes running or doing something else? To achieve the greatest cardiovascular benefit, it would be ideal if these were constants. However, it is possible to divide your physical activity into smaller periods by walking 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon, for example. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at a minimum, aerobic activity should be done for 10-minute sessions.
- The rest you need: if we are talking about the minimum amount of time you need to walk, it is also important to talk about rest. Someone who walks for five days, for examples, should rest for two days. With people who choose to exercise for fewer days a week, the important thing is to get 150 minutes. Our specialist’s recommendation is to exercise no less than 3 days a week. This means not “becoming a weekend athlete, who are at a greater risk of injury, causing some type of serious damage, as for them, it is only a burden to exercise and the rest of the time they are completely sedentary.”
- More than just walking: “You cannot say that with walking you do not need to do any other type of exercise,” Dr. Palacio says. The truth is that even people who only walk for their aerobic exercise and do not seek to lose weight or tone their bodies, must also do muscle strengthening work. The WHO’s recommendation is to do activities to strengthen large muscle groups at least twice a week, as walking involves placing a load on these muscles that must be strengthened to withstand and respond adequately to the demands of the activity. Such routines can be done with elastic bands or by using light weights. You can learn about this at visits with your sports medicine doctor.
- Personalize your exercise: Someone who has not been physically active for 20 years is not the same as someone who does regular exercise routines. Age, gender, height and even weight are all determining factors for setting an exercise regime.
How active are you?
A study conducted by scientists from Arizona State University in the United States established the following scale to assess the active lifestyle of healthy adults.
- Walking less than 5,000 steps a day is the equivalent of leading a sedentary lifestyle.
- Between 5,000 and 7,500 steps is considered moderate physical activity.
- Between 7,500 and 10,000 steps is a “somewhat active” lifestyle.
- More than 10,000 steps is the equivalent of leading an active life.