Fitness Myth: Walking Is a Best Form of Exercise

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Senior couple walking dog in park

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Are you one of the many walkers who think you’re getting good exercise? I see my fellow seniors out in my neighborhood walking every morning. A few of them I recognize as gym people as well. But most are walk-and-talkers. They don’t work-out or play sports. They prefer logging steps on their fitness apps rather than lifting weights or strength training. But it’s a myth that walking is a best form of exercise.

There are plenty of websites and fitness experts who tout walking as a best form of exercise. Many of us have bought into that myth. But if you’re an older adult who wants to stay fit and active, walking is not enough to reverse age-related muscle loss.

Walking is of course better than no exercise at all, but to maximize health benefits, a combination of aerobic-type (running, cycling, swimming) and strength-type exercise (lifting weights or body-weight exercises) should be performed regularly. We know being unfit shortens life, and countering the losses of muscle strength/power and bone density as we age can improve our ability to perform daily tasks, while reducing the risk of falls and associated complications.  Jackson Fife, Lecturer in Applied Sport Science, Deakin University

Keep Walking and Add Strength Training

I’m not saying stop walking, that’s one of the more enjoyable ways to get outside, and walking with a friend has social benefits. But there is no getting around the fact that unless you are breathing hard (meaning you’re walking hard and fast enough to get your heart rate up), walking has limited benefits for health.

The only way to reverse age-related muscle loss is to move your joints through a full range of motion with enough resistance until muscle fatigue sets in. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a minute.

Too much walking can put you at risk for wearing out joints and even falling unless you also engage in a routine to strengthen joints and muscles. Before you start to complain about gyms and lack of time, I will tell you that a sufficient strength training routine is possible in as little as six minutes a day.

Six Minutes a Day for Stronger Muscles

Six minutes doesn’t sound like enough time to make a difference but I’ve been reading more than a dozen studies that have found that short routines of higher intensity exercise can improve fitness in seniors more than with traditional routines. Furthermore, higher-intensity exercise has been shown to be safe for those of us over 60, even when untrained and sedentary.

Studies show higher-intensity exercise safe for those with cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, heart failure, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. Of course, if you are burdened with such conditions, please be sure to work with your doctor and seek out proper instructions with a trained exercise professional.

Higher-Intensity Exercise Improves Walking

I love walking and would never stop doing it. But to maintain muscle and joint health, avoid falls, and feel better with age, I know I need regular exercise that involves lifting weights or using my own body weight. That’s why I’ve used a trainer for the last ten years. It’s not that I need the motivation (although I sometimes do), but a trainer won’t let me keep doing what I am comfortable with.

A trainer knows that doing the same routines consistently will not bring results. They know how to ramp up the intensity in multiple ways. They also know how to avoid injuries. We are not always the best judge of our workout routines. We like comfort and we like routines.

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