Is walking ‘a complete exercise’? Here’s what experts say

Fitness routine for many people is all about walking a certain number of steps or distance in a day. Many experts even suggest walking to be a great way to keep one’s health, calories and weight in check. But, according to Dr Manjunath Sukumaran, holistic health coach, chief facilitator, and founder of Harmony Wellness Concepts, it is “not an exercise or a full workout by itself”.

For some time now, Dr Sukumaran has been advocating for a switch to an effective three-component exercise regimen to alleviate lifestyle ailments like blood pressure, diabetes or weight gain through his Facebook videos. According to him, if there is “not any serious restriction”, one should look at other forms of cardio activity rather than walking which is “not a whole, complete exercise”.

“One should be doing at least 30 minutes of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) which should start with specific floor exercises and bodyweight training. This means a good exercise routine has three main components — endurance training, resistance training, and flexibiity. And walking falls short on all three aspects,” he told indianexpress.com.

Why walk at all?

Walking for over 25 to 30 minutes per day is an effective way to improve heart health and lung capacity, said nutritionist Karishma Chawla.

Moderate exercise, such as walking, reduces the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It helps you breathe easier and stay healthy longer especially considering the fact that most cardiovascular-related lifestyle disorders could decrease life expectancy. Simply walking every day can improve the management of lifestyle conditions such as hypertension, joint and muscular pain/stiffness. “It also helps keep your cholesterol in check. The prevalence of diabetes mellitus in the world is ever increasing. Walking every day can help keep your blood sugar in control,” she explained.

While walking is a good physical activity, Chawla also pointed out how “it is important to challenge oneself in terms of the increase in steps and speed to achieve optimal benefits of this cardio activity”.

“Optimal cardio activity helps in cardiovascular exercise, balancing blood pressure, lowering bad cholesterol, increase in good cholesterol, reducing anxiety due to release of endorphins, helping blood circulation, boosting lung health, balancing blood sugar levels, which helps to lower body fat percentage keeping the metabolism high,” the lifestyle educator added.

Despite having so many benefits, why is walking not considered a good exercise?

Experts point out “it is important to challenge oneself in terms of the increase in steps and speed to achieve optimal benefits of this cardio activity”. (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Dr Sukumaran pointed out how walking has got “numerous health benefits, especially for uninitiated ones as something is better than nothing”. But according to him, what one doesn’t realise is that simply walking every day makes one lose muscle mass which shows in ageing skin, and energy levels over the years. “But when walking is complemented with specific training, it helps build muscle mass, improve blood sugar levels, keep energy dips in check, and delay the ageing process,” he said.

Agreed Dr Samudrika Patil, clinical endocrinologist and CEO of Vedicure Healthcare and Wellness. She said one can get “more effective results with regards to fat loss and increasing muscle mass” with resistance training.

Brisk walking, jogging, climbing stairs or cycling – any activity that increases your heart rate is categorised as endurance training.

“To begin with, you could start with bodyweight exercises which must include a schedule to target all groups of muscles. Resistance bands have recently been taken to for home workouts especially due to the closing of gyms during the lockdown. You can play with your resistance bands by adding variations to your daily workouts. Similarly, for flexibility, Zumba or aerobics are good exercises. Also, yoga is always a way to stay flexible, strong and keep your mental health in check,” Dr Patil said.

According to Chawla, endurance training activities that help up the cardio rate such as jogging, swimming, squash and dancing have numerous health benefits including boosting cardiovascular health, lung health, helping in blood circulation, lowering anxiety, increasing metabolism, increasing focus, and insulin sensitivity.

Is depending on walking futile?

While experts mention how “no physical activity goes futile”, and “walking is definitely a good way to start”, it needs to be interspersed with cardio activities for “holistic gains”.

“I consider walking as a part of the circle of fitness which also includes strength training (weight training/bodyweight), yoga, meditation and flexibility stretch. Brisk walking, jogging, dancing/Zumba, swimming all are considered cardio activities that help to keep the body fit,” said Chawla.

Dr Patil also mentioned how walking could be accompanied by intermittent jogging or skipping. “Make sure you get that morning run in to soak in the sun and sweat some calories out. Take the stairs every alternate day. If that’s boring, take your dog for a walk!” Dr Patil expressed.

How essential is it to work out?

Considering the growing awareness towards fitness, all experts agree that “regular exercise is non-negotiable like bathing”. “The more you move the better your fitness levels are. Studies show that a 65-year-old adult’s endurance capacity is similar to a 17-year-old teen’s. All we need to do is use it well. Indulging regularly will help raise awareness and help in healing the mind, body and soul!” said Chawla.

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