Is walking sufficient exercise for someone in my situation?
January 24, 2010 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Is walking sufficient exercise for someone in my situation?

I am a relatively sedentary guy in my mid-20's. My doctor recommended at my last physical that I should exercise at least 3 times a week for baseline general health. I dislike strenuous exercise, but think I could motivate myself to walk to and from work 3-4 days a week (around 25 minutes each way). The question: is this enough for me?

Some websites say that walking is sufficient exercise for general health, but some of this advice seems directed at people for whom walking is more of a challenge (e.g. older/overweight). I'm young, skinny, and a former varsity athlete. Walking doesn't seems like exercise; that's one of the reasons I'm drawn to it in the first place.

Does this sound like sufficient exercise? How would it compare with, say, casual jogging for 20 minutes 3 times a week?
posted by lunchbox to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Jogging takes more effort than walking.
posted by dfriedman at 8:01 PM on January 24, 2010

There's walking and walking. If you don't crack a sweat, it ain't exercise for someone at your life stage.
posted by smoke at 8:01 PM on January 24, 2010

I think you should start with walking if that's what you feel capable of doing. Motivation is important to keep up an exercise routine, and maybe more than that is too overwhelming just yet. You may feel that after walking to work a few days a week you want to add more exercise to your schedule.

I can also personally recommend the Wii. EA Sports Active has been great for my exercise routine, but even just playing tennis or bowling is getting up off the couch and doing something!
posted by misha at 8:05 PM on January 24, 2010

At issue is heart rate. If walking does not increase your heart rate above resting, you are not getting much benefit. You may not want to break a sweat on the way into work, but nothing should prevent you from walking briskly or running home after work. Try to get your heart rate at least 10 to 15 beats above your resting rate. Once you start getting some brisk walking/jogging exercise, you may find it addictive and want to run more. Go for it.

Any exercise is better than sitting in your car to and from work.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:09 PM on January 24, 2010

This book has a chart that compares walking with other types of exercise in terms of how many calories are burned in 30 minutes. You can use Amazon's search box to search for "walking," then click on page 11 and scroll down to find the relevant info. For instance, if you take 15 minutes to walk a mile, and you weigh 180 lbs., you'll burn 184 calories in 30 minutes. If you run a 10-minute mile and you're that same weight, you'll burn 409 calories in 30 minutes. Of course, that doesn't mean walking is less than half as effective as running at burning calories -- you also need to consider how often you'll actually do this exercise. Walking might end up burning more calories if you end up being motivated to do it more than twice as often. (I'm just giving this as possibly useful info, not trying to suggest that calories burned is the only important thing.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:20 PM on January 24, 2010

All great advice, but you can always ask your doctor to be more specific!
posted by CharlesV42 at 8:25 PM on January 24, 2010

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. If you can indeed motivate yourself to build walking to and from work into your week, do that.

Your next physical is the right time to find out whether it's enough or not.
posted by flabdablet at 8:31 PM on January 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

Effective exercise is difficult. If it's not difficult it's probably not effective.

But you'll have to define what "sufficient exercise" means to get a sensible answer to your question. Sufficient for what?
posted by ludwig_van at 8:44 PM on January 24, 2010

Getting in the habit of being active is probably the most important thing right now. If, after being a varsity athlete, you now want nothing to do with exercise, a bunch of people telling you to do X, Y or Z may not be very effective.

So start moving again by walking to and from work 3-4 times a week. Bring an iPod or a radio with you if that helps lift your mood and keep you going. Don't worry about elevating your heart rate or jogging now. Just get in the habit of being outdoors and active.

Can you do more to get fit? Sure. Here's two possible paths to try after you get used to regular walking:

1. Become a maggot. Go out every other day (not every day) and run SLOWLY. Embarrassingly slowly. (See the right sidebar at that site for other running posts.)

2. High Intensity Interval Training: If you think you can manage strenuous exercise for a short period of time, but would be bored witless by longer periods of exercise, you can make great aerobic gains with intervals. Classic intervals: push yourself hard for a minute, then go back to an easy pace for 2 minutes. Repeat until 6 minutes have passed. If you want to push yourself, work up to 12-15 minutes, but 6 minutes is a great start. The only caveats are: 1) Get some base level fitness in first with brisk walking or slow jogging, and 2) Double check with your doctor that you can go for it.
posted by maudlin at 8:45 PM on January 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

Exactly. The most important first step is to change your habits and establish a routine. And for most people the hardest part (including myself) is getting off their butts and doing something, anything. Just get out the door and do the walk to work and don't worry about how "intense" it is. And learn to enjoy it.

I read somewhere a long time ago about Jerry Seinfeld's advice to a comedian struggling to establish himself. Seinfeld said try to write some material, lanything (no matter how good or bad) every single day. He motivated himself to do this by putting up a 365 day calendar on the wall, and marking every day with a big X when he completed the task. Soon it became a fun challenge to maintain unbroken streams of X's several weeks or months long.
posted by randomstriker at 8:50 PM on January 24, 2010

Do it, then worry if you need to do more. Maybe you'll like it and want to do more.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:50 PM on January 24, 2010

I agree with maudlin: start with the walking. I find that this amount of exercise definitely lifts my mood -- it feels good to move my body, and being in the sun helps. Then, a bonus: when I do that much walking pretty consistently for a few weeks, my body starts wanting more! So maybe I make sure to wear running shoes so that I can run for a bit if I feel like it. It never feels like work!
posted by wyzewoman at 8:50 PM on January 24, 2010

Jogging takes more effort than walking.

Not necessarily. It depends on how slow you jog or how fast you walk. Walking can be great exercise, including a good cardio workout (every bit as good as jogging), you just have to go fast enough to up your heart rate and make sure you maintain the intensity.

Twenty five minutes walking each day, assuming you're going fast enough to increase your heart rate and get your breathing up enough to make it slightly harder to talk, will definitely make a difference. You'll improve your cardio fitness, burn calories, increase your basal metabolism, move and stretch out our body and possibly even build some leg muscles. Sure hard out running might make more of a difference (or at least a different kind of difference) but if that isn't going to happen then it's a pointless comparison. And who knows, you may end up getting carried away and completing a marathon like I did last year. On the other hand if you just stroll along to work without putting in any effort then the returns will be also be reduced, but again any movement is better than none so do it anyway.

I've done an exercise test while walking (as part of a scientific trial) and I was working every bit as hard as the runners in the test, plus my lactic acid levels didn't change and overall I tested as being fit and healthy. That was after a year or so walking regularly (40 mins/day) but before I stepped up the training to build for the marathon. Anyone who writes off walking as a useful exercise just isn't doing it right.
posted by shelleycat at 8:54 PM on January 24, 2010

The question: is this enough for me?

What is your goal? Why are you working out if you hate it? What do you want to get out of working out?
posted by P.o.B. at 8:57 PM on January 24, 2010

But you'll have to define what "sufficient exercise" means to get a sensible answer to your question. Sufficient for what?

(1) Long-term health & disease prevention
(2) Keeping my energy, mood, and mental clarity high so I can perform well at work

Weight loss is definitely not a goal, and improving my physical appearance is not that important.
posted by lunchbox at 9:05 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Given your stated goals it probably a good start. You won't be very fit with only that much exercise, but you'll be far from sedentary, and from most of what I have read the greatest bulk of the health gains from exercise are gained wiothout the need for anything truly strenuous. If walking three or four days a week is works for you you may later want to consider more walking or something more strenuous, but go for what works for you now and add later if your goals change.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:17 PM on January 24, 2010

Sure, walking, why not. Or you could just meditate and that would cover those same goals.
posted by P.o.B. at 9:27 PM on January 24, 2010

One interesting possibility I see so far is maudlin's point about high-intensity interval training. I find doing high-intensity activity in short bursts (e.g. fast running) more tolerable than extended, constant cardio. However, I frequently hear recommendations along the lines of "30 minutes of constant elevated heart rate", and got the impression from this that short, high-intensity workouts wouldn't have the same effect. Thoughts?
posted by lunchbox at 9:29 PM on January 24, 2010

Lots of people think HIIT is the best exercise you can do. And if it's something that you are interested in, then so much the better.

(there are lots more websites out there which discuss it)
posted by CathyG at 9:37 PM on January 24, 2010

HIIT is not an exercise, it's an exercise routine. But you said you weren't interested in increasing you're cardio, losing weight, or even working out. Anyway, Alwyn Cosgrove has some interesting things to say about it.
posted by P.o.B. at 9:45 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best exercise is exercise you'll actually do. Period.

Start walking. Make it a habit. Once you've done that, if you want to do something else instead/in addition, do that. If not, keep walking.

Do not let the best be the enemy of the good.
posted by decathecting at 9:50 PM on January 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think the (incorrect) idea that exercise has to be difficult, make you sweat, ache, or suffer to be effective is the reason that so many people don't bother exercising at all.

Lot of this advice sounds geared towards changing your bodily appearance or improving your athletic performance in some way, which is not what you say you are interested in.

Here is the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, from the CDC. If you read the whole thing you will find the kinds of answers you are looking for.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:18 PM on January 24, 2010

I did what the OP proposes several years ago and found a walking routine to be a great source of energy and 'me time'. It lead to a gym routine once I moved to a place where walking to and from work was no longer possible, but I still enjoy taking long walks on weekends when the weather is nice.

The walking routine also made me consider what I ate, which was something I had not really done before. 'That candy bar would take all week to walk off - do I really want it?'
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:48 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anecdote only, and I am no nutritionist, but: I have walked moderately most of my adult life -- usually at least 1 or 2 24-40 minute brisk walks to/from work. I am fairly heavy and my younger brother and father match my body type more than that of my elder brothers and mother (yeah, boo for genes!). Anyway, my dad and younger brother have had cholesterol and blood pressure issues for years, and my dad is diabetic. I have not had much trouble with any of these conditions. One year, I lived in an area where walking was pretty impossible, and I put on 20 pounds and felt crappy most of the time. Once I moved and got back to walking, I lost the weight and felt better. And so on. If this experience is typical, walking won't make you thin, but it may help you avoid a variety of conditions later in life. Plus, depending on where you live, the buildings are prettier on foot than from a bus or car.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:53 AM on January 25, 2010

You know, I say this seriously, but you can make walking, if it's just walking to and from work, a bit more efficient by carrying something of weight.

I, for example, was getting two miles of walking in with a 26 lb baby on my back, and though I didn't crack a sweat typically, I defy anyone who tells me it wasn't a workout! Now said baby walks himself except across major intersections, so I get a little more cardio in by chasing him around and keeping him on track.

So, I'm betting if you put some books in a backpack or something, that that might help increase the workout you get by walking, even if the walking isn't strenuous.
posted by zizzle at 6:02 AM on January 25, 2010

If you walked to work 3-4 days a week I'd say you definitely would not be sedentary, even if you wouldn't be getting your heart rate up. You could always give it a try and see how it influences your blood pressure, weight, etc. in a couple of months...

I walk to work (30 minutes) and have for the last year and a half, barring days with really bad weather. It's way easier for me than going to the gym, since I have to commute somehow, and don't need to take a shower after walking. It's also a pleasant way for me to connect with my neighborhood. Health-wise, I am somehow in better health and shape than I have ever been, even when I regularly went to the gym.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:02 AM on January 25, 2010

walking will change your life for the better. i promise.

start out with the 25-minute walk (one way) and then speed it up & make it in 22 minutes. then shoot for 20 minutes. etc. build it into your week to do it a minimum of 3x & then shoot for an optimum 5x/week. it will achieve your two stated goals and i'd be surprised if you don't get a lot more benefit from it.

good luck.
posted by msconduct at 8:06 AM on January 25, 2010

If you just want to be not-sedentary, then walking is a good way to do it. It's also a good way to ease into being more active without being overwhelmed, if you think you might eventually want to do that. (I'm also a former athlete who became sedentary. Started walking last summer and felt much better.)
posted by Mavri at 8:31 AM on January 25, 2010

I think the (incorrect) idea that exercise has to be difficult, make you sweat, ache, or suffer to be effective is the reason that so many people don't bother exercising at all.

Amen. Walking to and from work will get your muscles moving. It will get your body producing lots of helpful chemicals. It will give you time alone with your thoughts or with an audio book. It might lower stress as you don't have to worry about traffic or bus schedules or what have you.

From a health and fitness standpoint, any physical activity that you can maintain on a weekly basis is better than physical activity that you start doing, dislike, and stop doing.

Since you're a former varsity athlete, have you considered joining an adult sports league?
posted by muddgirl at 9:39 AM on January 25, 2010

I'm late to respond here, but I'm in a similar situation. I'm a 25 year old woman (not overweight, no health problems that would prevent vigorous exercise), and my primary form of exercise is walking. I live in an area where about half my transportation is walking, so I probably walk for 40+ minutes per day.

I also lift weights off and on, but I'm in an off phase at the moment. I don't walk really fast, but I get my heartrate up here and there, mostly when I go up hills.

I've discussed how much I exercise w/ my doctor, and she thinks it's totally appropriate and doesn't think it's necessary to do any more, or to add running or jogging or anything. She does think the weightlifting is a good idea (esp. for my bones), but the walking is sufficient on it's own - I'm quite active on a daily basis, without any formal exercise.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:07 AM on January 28, 2010

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