Scrolling through social media can make you feel all sorts of things on any given day. It can entertain, depress, motivate, numb and, occasionally, outrage. I felt outrage the other day when I came upon a reel featuring a conversation between two fitness influencers. One said, “you know what I hate? I hate when people call walking exercise!” The other responded emphatically, “I know! Walking is NOT exercise.” What?! There is only one form of exercise I really enjoy doing and it’s walking (a distant second is pilates on a reformer because you get to do it lying down). I was so annoyed by the reel that I had to put my phone away and go for a walk (the alternative was binging on jelly beans and, maybe for the first time ever, I said no).

The World Health Organization defines exercise as “A subset of physical activity behavior that involves purposive and repetitive movements with the aim of improving cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular fitness or flexibility.” Putting one foot in front of the other and getting your heart rate up definitely satisfy the requirements. In fact, the WHO recommends, “If you are not currently active you can begin by adding a few minutes (less than 10 minutes duration) of moderate-intensity physical activity each day, such as walking and doing more tasks around the house, walking to the corner store or a nearby park or beach.”

I know enough about what’s good for me and the fact that toxic opinions on everything abound on social media to disregard the “walking is not exercise” nonsense. But still! I fall into the camp that believes any form of movement you actually do is good exercise for you. The key is movement. And doing it. The question is really what’s the vision you’re working toward and what’s your goal in exercising.

Walking IS Exercise

There is no one size fits all when it comes to wellness. Different things work for different people and different goals are met by different actions. Exercise goals can include improving flexibility, gaining muscle, losing weight, toning, building bone density, improving balance, or living longer and better. Powerlifting is not the answer if you’re trying to shed pounds.

Years ago, it was all about cardio. I used to love a good aerobics class. Moving to music was dancing and that totally worked for me. Now that I’m nearing 58, I’m hearing cardio isn’t the thing anymore (and I’m not so sure I could keep up with an aerobics class of yesteryear anymore anyway). Now it’s all about strength or resistance training. And it’s true, it’s important to be strengthening muscles at my age. But that doesn’t mean aerobic exercise no longer matters. And it definitely doesn’t mean walking is useless! Exercising your heart is essential and walking does just that. Walking is most definitely exercise.

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week for substantial health benefits.

Walking is actually the equivalent of a superfood in the world of exercise. It’s the most uncomplicated form, requires no equipment other than good shoes, eases joint pain, boosts immune function, reduces the risk of breast cancer, strengthens the heart and lungs, can reduce blood sugar, tones legs, and it boosts energy and mood. It also gives you a chance to clear your head, appreciate the world around you, or listen to music or a podcast while you’re on the move. It can be meditative, allowing you to practice mindfulness and exercise all in one shot.

10,000 Steps

So walking is a little polarizing. Who knew? Some influencers are convinced it’s not exercise at all and others are obsessed with getting their 10,000 steps in every day. Here’s a fun fact: 10,000 steps originated as a marketing campaign in Japan for a pedometer, just before the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The pedometer was named “manpo-kei,” which translates to “10,000 steps meter.” There was no science backing up the number 10,000. Rather, it may have been chosen because it was simple and catchy. An unsubstantiated theory exists that the number was chosen because the Japanese character for 10,000 looks like a person walking. Regardless, it wasn’t based on science. Nonetheless, it caught on.

Several studies have explored the soundness of the number. One study investigated the impact of a 100-day, 10,000 step program on signs of depression, anxiety and stress and found ​​improved mental health and wellbeing in people undertaking this program. Yet, they also determined the benefit was derived irrespective of whether a person reached the 10,000 step mark. They concluded that targets reached may be less important than participation itself. It’s the walking that counts rather than the number of steps walked.

The National Institutes of Health conducted a different study to determine the number of steps needed to gain health benefits. The particular benefit they looked at was low mortality. They concluded walking can prolong your life and that the benefits taper off after 7500 steps-a-day. Most of the studies I looked at linked steps to mortality. In other words, the more daily steps you take, the longer and better you’ll live. The bottom line is that movement enhances health and quality of life.

Walking is Strength Training?

In the aftermath of the “walking is not exercise” debacle, I heard another fitness and nutrition “expert” say that we’re heavier now, as a nation, than we were when the 10,000 step recommendation first became popular. As a result, he suggested that walking between 5,000-7,500 steps-a-day was sufficient and also qualifies as strength training for many of us since we’re carrying so much extra weight as we walk. Well, look at me now. I’m strength training.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with walking 10,000 or more steps everyday or most days. And there’s nothing wrong with setting a step goal and pushing yourself to meet it. It’s just that so many of us are living a pretty sedentary life and it can be a real challenge to make it all the way to 10,000 steps daily. It’s important to know that every step counts.

Don’t Be a Blob

Have you ever seen the movie WALL-E? It’s a film that came out in 2008, set in the future. WALL-E a robot left to clean up the garbage on uninhabitable, deserted earth. The humans, who had destroyed the planet with their waste, had moved to a space station where they had everything they needed, provided by robots, and never had to get out of their chairs to do anything. The humans were blobs (or depicted as such). The reason the WHO, the CDC, the NIH and all health-related organizations and institutions are happy to accept the 10,000 step recommendation as gospel is desperation caused by the fact that the future is now. In addition to destroying the planet, we spend an inordinate amount of time looking at screens and not moving. Despite scientific discoveries and advanced medical cures, we are blobs. And we are blobs who are increasingly diseased. We’ve traded movement for screen time. We need to bring movement back in order to feel good and live healthier lives.

It’s actually pretty simple. The real message is move more, sit less. You might want to go for a walk!

Something to think about: “I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow; if I fail, or if I succeed at least I did as I believe.” – Whitney Houston

Something to try: Go for a walk. D’uh. But that’s not all. While you’re walking, imagine you’re receiving an award for doing life as well as you have so far and practice your acceptance speech. Who and what will you thank? Remember to thank yourself. 

Coaching Can Help

Do you want to incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine but can’t seem to get started or stick with it? Consider working with a coach to set attainable goals and small action steps that are right for you. Schedule a free 15-minute discovery call here and let’s get you on your way.

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. Walking is what I primarily do in terms of exercise. I wish that I could still run/jog or play hockey, but I always ended up with knee pain, until I finally (and sadly) accepted the fact that once I was in my fifties, I couldn’t do that anymore. And, judging by the amount of sweat I generated on the treadmill yesterday (TMI?), I’d say that walking IS a workout.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *