Walking as a habit for sneaky aerobic exercise and weight loss

Starting shortly after my Vancouver Marathon trip, I began leaving for work earlier in the mornings to walk 5K to work instead of taking the bus.

I already run-commute in part to save money on bus fare (it’s long since been cheaper to pay per use than to get a monthly pass since I don’t ride as much), not to mention get my training in during the week.

Admittedly, part of my motivation for walking to work in the morning was to further save on the cost of bus fare. If using the bus once per work day was cheaper, then not using it at all is even cheaper.

And of course living 5K from work makes walking to work feasible. If I lived farther away (my last job was 9 miles from home), running that commute would be more difficult, and walking that commute would be unworkable. I would have a need to take transit.

All that said, there’s a variety of health benefits to taking long walks to work that I’m trying to take advantage of.

Walking lightly develops your aerobic capacity.

Even though I most need to develop my aerobic capacity to run, walking for extended periods has a lesser but still substantial long term aerobic benefit.

In fact, walking to get around while living in Seattle (plus occasional sprints to catch a bus) was probably a key reason I adapted so well to distance running once I began doing so. All that walking had developed a wide range of aerobically friendly mitochondria that carried some weight once I began running.

In my personal run tracking metrics, I count walking in my exercise but don’t count it too much towards my mileage capacity since running requires much more energy per second and walking is fairly low difficulty.

Based on no science whatsoever beyond my own observations and experience, I equate 10 miles of overall walking to one mile of running. So walking three miles to work is like adding 0.3 mile to my running mileage that day.

Walking generates whole-body circulation.

Circulation brings nutrients from your digested food to your muscles, organs, bones, brain, etc. The safest and most sustainable way to accelerate this process is through light activity… such as walking.

Circulation also helps clear out waste, free radicals, and anything else hindering your energy or recovery. Sure enough, light activity like walking also helps move this process along.

Circulation also helps keep your muscles “awake” by interrupting extended periods of stagnation, such as sitting at a desk for hours. The lower body muscles don’t have to do nearly as much while walking as they do when running. So it’s an easy way to keep them active without wearing them out.

Rarely does walking wear me out all that much… and usually it only does when the weather is rather hot, or I was already tired when I began walking.

Walking of course burns fat.

Every mile I run burns a net of about 100-110 calories (it truly burns a total of about 120-125, but I have to account for calories I would burn at rest during that time period).

You obviously burn fewer net calories per mile walking since you’re moving a lot slower. But those calories are still getting burned.

While the slower you’re moving the fewer net calories you burn… more of those calories are burned from fat rather than carbohydrate-fueled glycogen. On average, 82% of your calorie burn comes from fat when you’re walking.

If you’re trying to lose weight and burn fat, a lot of walking can be a low key aid in reaching your weight goals.

Walking usually gives you an extended dose of (relatively) fresh air and sunlight.

It’s possible you could get miles of walking in by pacing underground or through tunnels. It’s possible you could do all your walking while covered head to toe in clothes (and yes I realize women in Islamic cultures do have to live that way).

But for the most part, walking is done outside under the sun. Sometimes that sun is covered by clouds. But even then you’re getting some dosage of UV, which in turn provides you with Vitamin D and other nutients (not to mention it may help your tan).

Sunlight or not, you also get some relatively fresh outdoor air. The air quality in some places is better than others, sure. But indoor air is actually quite toxic (I recently bought an air purifer in part because of this, and among other things it’s helped my sleep). Most of the time, going outside exposes you to much better air (obviously a troubled air climate like many major Chinese cities, or to a lesser extent the occasionally unhealthy air quality day in most cities, is another story).

There’s a variety of positive benefits I won’t get into that come from taking in outdoor air over indoor air. But among the ones I mentioned, it can help your mood, your outlook and your stress levels. Taking a walk can clear your head and your perspective.

Being outside helps acclimate you to the current climate.

Right now Chicago is getting its first long-delayed exposure to actual extended warmth. Winter has lasted unusually long the last couple years, and in turn that delays our collective acclimation to exercising in warmer temperatures.

Running in these conditions is still quite tough for a lot of us. We haven’t acclimated yet. However, walking in these conditions is not only a lot easier, but it’s quite pleasant.

If you’re like me and struggling to acclimate to exercise in warmer conditions, going for a long walk or twelve in those warm conditions is a great way to slowly adjust to activity in those conditions.

Likewise, once it starts to get real cold in Chicago, walking to and/or from work in those cooling conditions will help make winter easier to deal with… especially during training runs!

Walking eliminates the annoyances of a transit or drive commute.

As I said before, how feasible a walk to and from work can be depends on how far away from work you live.

You may have a long drive or train ride, and thus walking that distance isn’t practical.

You also live in a more rural or suburban style environment that lacks sidewalk infrastructure. Trying to walk on the dirt/weed covered side of a highway is usually dangerous and not advised.

If you live in an urban environment and within four miles of your work/school place, provided decent sidewalks along the way, you could definitely walk or run to work, and/or back. A run is easily do-able for those who put in 20+ miles per week. A walk takes at most about 90 minutes, which isn’t much worse than the average distant commute.

If do-able, a walk to or from work can save you the cost of gas/insurance, or the cost of a transit fare. And you get some low-key aerobic exercise to go with it. And you get some (relatively) fresh air.

Even in the case of a long commute… if you catch a commuter train a couple miles from home, you could walk that couple miles between the station and your home instead of driving in.

Living in Chicago, I can tell you a car or transit commute here is fairly annoying for a variety of reasons, and that’s overlooking the occasional harassment. Walking allows you to bypass a number of those annoyances, with your only remaining annoyance being time invested and the mild effort required.

I’ve been low-key weary the last week or so in no small part to all the walking I’ve done to and from work.

However, that will gradually get easier with time. And as I rebuild my mileage base ahead of my next marathon, I’m also putting in some low-key work towards rebuilding my fitness.

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