I’m so tired of y’all throwing shade at walking.
So, so tired.
Every time someone asks me about exercise and the best place for a beginner or a couch potato (said lovingly, of course) to get started, I say “walking.”
And, every time I say that in front of some form of an audience, I hear a groan or an eyeroll. And I have to resist the urge to get up and power bomb that person. Seriously, just Suplexing folks left and right.
I will drop The People’s Elbow on you for dissing walking in my presence.
I am a staunch advocate and loyal devotee to the fine art of putting one foot in front of the other and making magic happen in the form of forward motion. Some people do that through running, and that’s okay too. But I love walking.
When I first started my journey into fitness, I walked 45 minutes a day. It was me and my baby girl, a 3 year old who was all heart and legs and speed, but her run was still no faster than my walk. If anything, her run always meant that I was moving—no slowing down, no stopping.
That daily walk—that low-impact, low-intensity, regularly occurring stroll—created an almost 70lb weight loss for me.
Here are five things you need to know about why walking will always be GOAT status in terms of exercise for weight loss in my eyes:
1) When I hear people groan at the idea of walking being a successful way to lose weight, I laugh to myself because I get what they’re groaning at. “If someone’s going to finally jump into exercise, then encourage them to go in the direction that’s going to help them burn the most calories! Drop them in the deep end of the pool and let them get to work, damn it!” Except, that’s not quite how people work.
It’s important to burn calories, but it’s even more important to commit to whichever activity you choose. And encouraging someone who was once most comfortable by being nestled deep within their couch cushions means understanding that your biggest challenge is inertia—prying yourself from the couch cushion to begin with. Most people simply struggle with developing the desire to get up—I’m supposed to encourage people who are afraid of water to swim in the deep end?
I mean, sure, I could encourage you to get in a spin class and grind your heart out, but what happens if everyone in the room in intimidating AF, or worse—condescending to you and mocking you and making you feel anxious? Then not only has your spirit been squashed, but now you’re worse off than you started because this negative experience only validates your reasons for why you stay your booty on that couch. And sure, we need to work on that self-consciousness, but you could always be walking regularly while we do it.
2) Exercise simply cannot solely be about calorie deficit. It can’t. And we do ourselves a disservice by pretending that calorie burn is all that we should care about with exercise.
There are a handful of exercises that burn astronomical amounts of calories. Everything else pales in comparison. And, because of that, the argument would stand that everyone should only do those super-calorie burn classes and skip everything else. Not only would that be bad for fitness instructors everywhere, but it’d be bad for students, too.
Not everyone likes spin. Some people can’t actually perform kickboxing moves. And plenty of people’s muscles and joints can’t handle endurance running. But with walking, the average sedentary person can get up and get moving in a way that will undo—albeit slowly—the kind of damage done by sitting around all day. Muscles slowly deteriorate, joints become increasingly unsupported, your range of motion becomes limited, and the older you get, the worse it all feels.
Exercise is about improving your quality of life—strengthening your muscles, preserving your joints, improving your range of motion, increasing your flexibility, and more. And there are tons of options for activity that can accomplish all that without being a calorie torcher of an exercise… but walking is an inexpensive and accessible first step. which brings me to my next point:
3) Activities that tend to torch tons of calories also wind up being the kinds of exercises that leave you starving afterwards, and if you don’t know how to eat before or after those activities, you could inadvertently wind up eating way more than you actually burned… meaning your exercise routine could be unintentionally causing you to gain weight.
Walking doesn’t pose the same kind of risk—it can, but it’s highly unlikely. It’s not going to trigger the same kind of “oh my god we’re losing calories too quickly let’s burn muscle instead” or “oh my god we’ve lost too much better eat everything in site to preserve our fat stores” that you might feel after an intense kickboxing class, which helps protect the metabolism of the beginner in question. (Shorter version of that link: too high of a calorie burn without adequate pre-workout nutrition can cause muscle loss; too much loss of muscle will cause your metabolism to drop, meaning you burn far fewer calories each day than you otherwise might, making it harder to lose weight. Very bad.)
4) I’m going to reiterate point number two—that exercise can’t solely be about calorie burn—in another way: more often than not, people are making food-related choices from a position of being riddled with anxiety, not genuine need for satisfaction. In other words, people are seeking to self-soothe through food instead of other methods with far less destructive consequences. (It’s not that mere weight gain is destructive, but the other symptoms that come with overindulging on unhealthy foods—along with causing unwanted weight gain—certainly can be.)
The emotional benefits of exercise cannot be overlooked—someone who has taken time away from the stresses of everyday life and instead focused their energies towards taking in the air around them, listening to a book or good music, talking with a friend, all have the ability to alleviate the kinds of stress and anxiety that make it hard to choose the less gratifying foods.
If you have a job that makes you feel like crap and you know the donut will make you feel better, why wouldn’t you choose the donut?
Alas, if you have a job that makes you feel like crap but you know your daily walk through the nearby park has helped you unwind all week and will do the same again tonight, isn’t it easier to turn down the donut?
If the daily walk with the low calorie burn but the high anxiety relief makes it easier for you to eat healthier throughout the day, because you’re choosing from a relaxed place instead of a binge eating/self-soothing place, you’re still actually winning. You’re still creating a calorie deficit, and you can still shed weight just as fast.
5) I’m a believer in starting with people where they are. And if you are apprehensive about jumping head first into the world of active living, and you find the people in those spaces a little intimidating, then those are both okay. You can develop the ability to stand with the giants in the gym another day. But today, with your first step, you can walk.
For me, walking was a wonderful gateway to something incredible—after a few months of walking every day, I picked my baby up, put her on my back, and actually ran. It was something like a 16-minute mile, and she giggled and laughed as she repeatedly bumped her chin on my back, but I still jogged! And thus began my early love and appreciation for running. My own natural progression resulted in an incredible amount of success in something I would’ve never imagined possible, and it all started with walking.
It can’t always be about the calorie burn. We have to talk about the other positives that the most simple exercises can bring. This obsessive fixation on calorie burn causes people to undervalue everything else exercise can bring, ultimately resulting in people finding it increasingly difficult to commit—they don’t enjoy the more exhaustive forms of exercise, and they take for granted the low-impact forms, to the point where not losing “7 pounds in 7 hours!!!1111” is immediate grounds for quitting.
Now that I’m on my second round of the journey, so many things are different but so many are the same—my gentle, relaxing joy comes from those daily walks with another 2-year old, my new toddler. (That first baby is now a ‘tween, omg.) And although I have a gym at my disposal where I can do all kinds of fun things, my daily walks with him are the thing I cherish most, just like I did with his sister. They just make the day that much more enjoyable.
Why would we deny the average person that kind of pleasure?