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Physician Fitness: Walking's Not Just for Zombies


Walking is probably the most highly underrated form of exercise for non-zombie people of all ages and fitness levels who want to be more active.

Editor’s Note: This story is the latest in our Physician Fitness series. For more articles from the series, click here.

“The Walking Dead” is an American horror drama television series based on the comic book series of the same name. It’s one of the most popular series on television today with myriad accolades and high ratings behind it. Each episode features a bevy of slow-walking zombie characters. You’d think with all the walking the zombies do on the show they would all be in better health, no? Oh, there is the fact that they are dead, but we will ignore that detail.

Walking is probably the most highly underrated form of exercise for non-zombie people of all ages and fitness levels who want to be more active.

A Free and Natural Type of Exercise

Walking is good for you and it is free. It requires neither fancy equipment nor a gym membership. You can do walking as exercise in a specified chunk of time or

spread it out throughout your day.

People have a biological need to walk. We learn to walk when we are toddlers. It’s what we humans naturally can do and should do. However, we are a nation of largely sedentary workers, so walking, once a mode of travel itself, is now sadly something we have to consciously “fit” into our inactive, deskbound day.

Why It’s Good For You

Walking is also one of the easiest ways to become more active, lose weight, tone muscles and improve overall health.

Since walking is a low-impact exercise it does not have the same potential for injuries such as many other sports do, like jogging.

Walking can burn just as many calories as jogging if you briskly “walk tall” (hold your ribcage up and suck in your stomach muscles) and slightly swivel your hips. A brisk walk involves a walk pace that still allows the walker to be able to talk while walking, but unable to sing.

You may look odd doing this efficient type of walk, but you’ll be getting a higher calorie burn than a relaxed pace walk. For a 160-pound person you can burn about 300 calories while vigorously walking 3.5 miles per hour.

Why Doctors Like It

The National Walkers’ Health Study found that regular brisk walkers have a reduced risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and improved cardiovascular health. Walking helps strengthen bones, improve muscle endurance, aids in tissue fluid drainage, boosts circulation, and can prevent getting varicose veins. Regular walking is good for spinal disc lubrication, too, as the walking motion helps carry key minerals and vitamins to the discs in the spine.

There are psychological benefits to walking too. When you walk, like any form of exercise, there is a release of serotonin, the feel-good chemical, in the brain. Endorphins, which are the “happy” hormones, are also released giving the exerciser a delightful reward for their exercise efforts.

Sticking With It

Walking beats other forms of exercise in that there are excellent strategies for boosting the amount of walking a person can do. Most of us walk between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. Trying to reach 10,000 (ideal for health and weight loss) sounds daunting, but it really isn’t once you think about how you can incorporate this type of exercise into your normal, daily activities, like walking up flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator to your workplace or in the shopping mall, if you take public transportation consider getting off one stop before your usual stop and walking the last “leg” of the trip and/or or choose a “walking buddy” to lock in a codependence commitment promise of sorts (you are less likely to make excuses if someone is waiting for you to walk with them!).

You could also get a dog. They require a lot of walking and if you like your carpet the way it looks now you’ll take this dog for lots of walks to ensure it stays this way.

Our Feet

Feet were made for walking. With 50 muscles, 26 bones, and myriad ligaments in our feet we need to walk — just to give our feet a proper workout they deserve.

It’s important to support the feet while walking. You will want to wear an exercise sneaker with good arch support and consider buying a walking boot if you plan on regularly walking on rugged terrain or hiking.

A warm bath and/or gentle foot massage after your daily walk is a nice treat for your exercising feet.

Extreme Walking

If you really want to up your walking game you can walk on a treadmill at a six-degree incline and/or consider wearing a weighted vest or carry hand weights while employing the aforementioned brisk “walk tall” with a slight hip swivel walking style.

If you want to try and beat the recommended 10,000 steps a day you can invest in an activity tracker like a pedometer. The popular “Fit Bit Tracker” is one of the many activity trackers, wireless-enabled, wearable technology devices that measure data such as the number of steps walked, steps climbed, and other personal metrics, available to aid you in your personal walking exercise pursuits.

As with regular walking or any form of exercise it’s always important to do a proper warm up and cool down. To warm up while walking it’s best to do ten minutes first in the relaxed walk style/easy pace before increasing to your brisk walk. To cool down, spend the last ten minutes of the walk slowing back down to your regular walk/relaxed pace.

Stretching before and after a power walk are the perfect bookends to your walks.

Like a zombie after a good walk you’ll be dead-tired, but unlike a zombie, you will still be alive and, hopefully, a little bit more healthy.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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