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Is Walking Really an Effective Workout?

From the Show: Train Your Body
Summary: Whether your goal is to be more active, lose weight or win a marathon, walking is a great place to start.
Air Date: 2/17/15
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Michele Stanten
stantencMichele Stanten, a walking coach and ACE-certified fitness instructor, has been motivating people to be more active for over 20 years. Michele launched to help people lead healthier, happier lives. She believes that walking can be the first step (pun intended) to making exercise a habit, which can have positive effects on all areas of your life. Michele also wants to dispel beliefs that walking is only for the very unfit or very overweight. Walking can be a vigorous–yet joint-friendly–workout. She’s on a mission to show the world the many different ways to walk and the powerful benefits it can have.
Is Walking Really an Effective Workout?
Walking is one of the simplest and least expensive options to increase your physical activity level and improve your overall health.

If walking seems too simple to be an effective fitness method, think again. Taking a stroll is an easy way to lower blood pressure and increase aerobic fitness in people who are overweight or obese.

Walking is a convenient way for the average person, regardless of fitness level, to obtain ACSM’s recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day, at least five days per week.

These 30 minutes can be broken up into short bouts of 10 minutes of exercise, making walking a simple choice for a busy schedule.

Michele Stanten joins host Melanie Cole, MS, to discuss how walking daily can help your overall health in many ways.

RadioMD Presents: Train Your Body | Original Air Date: February 17, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Michele Stanten

Melanie: So, is walking really a workout? You all know from listening to me all these years that I love walking. I can walk 45 miles. It’s my favorite thing to do, but is it really enough? Does it burn enough calories? Does it get you in enough shape? You know, does it protect against heart disease? How do you take it up to the next level?

My guest is Michele Stanten. She’s a walking coach and an ACE-Certified Fitness Instructor. Welcome to the show, Michele. So, for those of us that like to walk and walk and walk and walk, is this really enough of a workout or aren’t we really doing enough?

Michele: Well, it depends on how you’re walking. One of the great things about walking is number one, we all know how to do it and it’s enjoyable. But, what happens a lot of times when we walk, is we get into a very comfortable pace and it actually becomes more energy efficient, so we’re not burning as many calories. You’ve got to push yourself out of that comfort zone and one of the things I recommend to do that is interval workouts. Interval walks. So, what you’re doing is, you’re speeding up for 30 seconds to a minute and then you go back to you regular walk for an equal amount of time or maybe double. So, you know, a minute or two and then you pick up the pace again and you get your heart pumping. If you’re doing this and walking faster, you really can get all the benefits of vigorous exercise. You just need to put a little bit more effort into your walks.

Melanie: What’s faster? I mean, I walk at 4 ½ miles an hour, or 4. If I’m feeling exhausted one day, I’ll go with 3.8. I pick it up to 4, you know?

Michele: Great.

Melanie: So, when I pick it up past that, it feels like I’m jogging then and I’m not walking and I hate jogging.

Michele: Right. Well, and you know, that’s so interesting. I hear that all the time. So many women love to walk, but then when they think they need to, you know, “I’ve got to lose a couple of pounds,” or, “I’ve got to get in shape for this event,” then they try running or they’ll do one of these high intensity workouts. A lot of times, I’ve heard from them that they get injured because they overdo it, yet they like walking. So, why not put some of that effort into your walk and you can get better results?

As far as the speed, it really depends on where you’re starting from. For some people who are out and taking their walks, they’re walking at a 3.3 or 3.5 mile per hour pace and that’s comfortable for them. You know, they go out, they do the same route every day and that’s the same pace. So they’re going to push it up and they’re going to start to work to get closer to that 4 miles per hour. You’re already up above 4 miles per hour. So, again, you can still push it up. I’ve got women who are walking 5, 5.2 miles per hour paces for their intervals and sometimes even a little higher. The key, if you’re already walking fast and it kind of feels like you’re jogging, is you need to add some technique. No matter what level you’re at, a little technique is going to help you to go faster, burn more calories and get more of those benefits.

Some of the key things with technique is, first of all, you want to stand up tall. Especially this time of year with the winter, so many of us—myself included. I do this--we’re kind of hunched over when we walk to try and stay warm and avoid the wind. But, we also do it in the summer when the sunlight’s kind of coming down. Even if you’re wearing sunglasses, you are kind of looking down. So, a lot of people walk looking at their feet and we really need to stand up tall. You want to be looking out about 10-20 feet ahead of you, even out at the horizon if you can. So, your chin is level to the ground. Your shoulders are back. It helps you breathe better, especially as you start to pick up the pace. So, that’s the first thing.

And, when we run, we don’t run with our arms down at our side. So when you’re walking fast, you want to bend your arms and bring them up to a 90 degree angle. You want them swinging forward and backward; not out to the sides —chicken arms or chicken wings, as I call them. Forward and back from about chest height back to the hip. And really pump them. Draw your elbows back. You can actually get a nice little upper body workout when you’re doing that.

And then, the other key is when people start to try and walk faster, their inclination is to take longer strides. I’m tall so everybody says I can walk fast because I’ve got long legs. That’s really not the key. If you want to go faster, when you’re stepping forward, you actually want to take shorter step forward and take quick, short steps. What happens is, it makes it easier for your body to kind of roll over your foot and go faster. If you’re stepping your foot real far out, it’s almost acting like a brake and you have to work a lot harder to pull your body up over that leg for your next step.

So, the key is: stand up tall, bend those arms and take shorter, quicker steps to get faster.

Melanie: Michele, I’m 4’10” or 11”, so standing up tall is not that easy for me, but I try and I hear what you’re saying. You need to really keep your chest up and your head up and, you know, don’t look at your feet. Don’t hunch all down. So, I get that.

So, what about shoes? I’m always telling people, “I like running shoes the best, even though I’m a walker, because they seem to support my feet so much better than walking shoes. They just don’t do it for me.” So, what do you tell people about shoes if they’re going to be a walker?

Michele: You are not alone. Almost all of my walkers that I’ve ever coached, most of them wear running shoes. There’s a lot more variety out there and one of the things that I find can slow people down is if they’re wearing a shoe that is--and a lot of the walking shoes are--heavier than the running shoes. They’ve got a stiffer sole and so you want something that’s a little more lightweight and a little more flexible. So, shoes should bend easily at the ball of the foot. If you give it a twist, you want a little bit of twist there. Not too much. And, again, depending on the person, comfort is key. If it doesn’t feel good when you’re wearing it, don’t buy it. It should feel good right from the start. You shouldn’t have to break it in. But, a lighter weight shoe, something that’s more flexible and that’s going to allow you to land on the heel, roll through the foot and push off with your toes and that’s going to give you more of that power for your stride.

So, again, running shoes are perfectly fine to walk in. Never run in walking shoes, but you can walk in running shoes.

Melanie: I say the same thing in cross-trainers as well. You don’t want to use cross-trainers for any kind of distance, right?

Michele: Right. Cross-trainers are more designed for some side to side motion. So, a running or a walking shoe, but, again, lightweight, flexible. You don’t want a heavy shoe that kind of weighs you down. You don’t want a big, clunky, thick heel that, again, can kind of act more as a brake than allowing your foot to roll through that natural motion. And, comfort is the key. If you’re going to be doing longer walks, going more distance--I’ve got walkers who train for 10Ks and half marathons and marathons--go up a half a size. What happens is, the longer you’re on your feet, the more your feet swell, so you may need that extra length in the shoe. Also, shop at the end of the day. Our feet are at the largest size at the end of the day, so you’re going to get a better fit if you shop at the end of the day.

Melanie: And don’t take your shoes off mid-walk. If you’re doing like the Avon Walk or something.

Michele: Oh, yeah.

Melanie: Taking those shoes off is about really the worst thing you can do.

Michele: Yes.

Melanie: Even if you feel like you’ve got blisters because then those feet just swell right up and, oh, my goodness.

Michele: Absolutely.

Melanie: Now, what if you get some pain?

Michele: What if you get some pain?

Melanie: What if you get some pain like heel pain, you know? Plantar fasciitis, any of that stuff. Do you think it’s blaming the shoes, blaming the distance, the surface you’re walking on?

Michele: It could be any one of those. One of the keys with people running into pain is, they tend to overdo it. So, if you’re progressing, if you’re working on speed, don’t increase your distance. If you’re working on distance, don’t also try to be increasing your speed. Break that up. So, for example, when I train walkers for half marathons or marathons, we have one day a week where we do our long walk and I always tell them, “Don’t push speed” on that walk. That walk is for the distance. So, don’t push the speed. We’ll have another walk during the week where you focus on speed, and then, you’re going to be doing a shorter walk. You also want to progress gradually. So, if you’re just starting out and you go out and take a walk 10 minutes a day, the next week, go to 15 minutes, and then go to 20. Don’t start with 10 minute walks and/or worse get off the couch and start trying to walk an hour a day. Overuse is one of the biggest reasons people get injured.

If you are wearing shoes that don’t have enough support or have broken down, that can increase your chance of injury. So, a key is that 300-500 miles is the lifespan of a walking or running shoe, so kind of mark the date that you get it and keep tabs on how much you’re walking. For most people if you’re walking, you know, times 30 minutes 5 days a week, it’s going to be about every 6 months that you’re going to need to replace those shoes.

Melanie: And that is great walking advice. So, get up. Walk around. Walk around more in the day. Get yourself a good pair of shoes.

This is Melanie Cole. You’re listening to Train Your Body with the American College of Sports Medicine on RadioMD. Stay well.