We're Obsessed With Counting Our Steps, But How Fit Does Walking Actually Make You?
The Debrief: Is walking better than running? Does walking burn fat? Is walking cardio? We asked an expert to find out...
Illustration by Ellie Blackwell
We walk everyday but you probably don't even think about it: to the bus, to bed, to the fridge (guilty). But recently, walking seems to have become a bit more than that; comparing daily steps with work mates is now a competition of epic proportions. At least, it is at Debrief HQ; I, for one, have definitely been step-shamed. And incase you didn’t know, the ‘Health’ app on your iPhone records your steps.
But how much good does an actual walk do you? Do we actually have to be busting our asses at the gym or does going for a stroll do us a load of good as well? We asked Ollie, personal trainer and co-founder of fitness company 3D Burn, to find out.
Is walking good for you?
‘Yes! It’s not just a myth that going for a stroll is good for you - it will keep you healthier. All your muscles are working to keep you moving around. Someone who walks regularly will be healthier than someone who doesn’t walk at all,’ Ollie explains. ‘Walking will increase respiratory rates, muscle activity, muscular endurance and general fitness and cardiovascular health.’ And if you have an injury that prevents you from doing high impact exercise, like running, walking is great because it’s low impact.
Does walking burn fat?
‘Yes, because it’s a lower intensity exercise, it halts the release of cortisol (a catabolic hormone) in the body, so you’ll burn fat rather than muscle,’ Ollie explains. If you’re wondering how high intensity training helps to burn fat, it’s because it’s done for a short amount of time, so cortisol doesn’t have a ‘chance’ to be released – in the average person it will take 15-20 minutes for this to happen.
Is walking better than running?
Of course this depends on what you’re trying to achieve but if the goal is weight loss, than yes, it is. ‘If you’re trying to lose weight, fast walking is better for you than a slow jog. When you do something that’s ‘stressful’ on the body, like jogging, you’ll be working at about a 60-75% work rate, so your body will release cortisol and you’ll burn muscle,’ says Ollie.
Does walking help you lose weight?
Weightloss is essentially when you burn more calories than you take in. ‘It’s 70% nutrition and 30% exercise. If someone was trying to add it into their everyday routine and went for a 30 minute walk it would make a difference. You should vary the exercise otherwise your body does get used to things and it does plateau. Any form of cardio exercise that you can easily do at the low intensity would have the same practical effect - like swimming or cycling,’ Ollie tells us.
Is walking cardio?
‘Yes, it’s a cardio exercise because it’s aerobic, rather than anerobic, he way your body responds and uses oxygen to create the energy that your body needs to walk.'
Does walking build muscle?
‘It will, because it’s a form of exercise but it’s not an aesthetically building exercise,’ Ollie explains. In other words, if you are looking to increase muscle mass, walking won’t do this. ‘It’s muscular endurance so it will train your muscles to work more efficiently and increase their respiratory rate.’
Does walking tone?
‘It tones more than it builds muscle. Toning essentially is a combination of body fat loss and muscular growth, so it is going to tone a bit, in the sense that you’ll lose body fat so you’ll look more toned.'
Does walking tone your bum?
‘Yes it will because walking activates the glutes, but not as much as doing glute-specific exercises like squats.’
Can I do walking on a treadmill?
‘You can, but walking on a treadmill is nowhere near as effective as walking outside because outside you have to propel yourself forward and force yourself forward. On a treadmill the base is moving for you, unless you have access to a Woodway Curve treadmill,’ says Ollie. Add to that the benefits of being outside in the open and absolutely free, and it’s kind of a no-brainer.
Do you have to do the walking all at once?
‘In my opinion, it’s all the same - you can build your activity up, your body is still doing it regardless. If anything, it’s a good thing to do it in small windows so you avoid the cortisol release. If you can spread it out there’s less stress on the body.’
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