Disadvantages of Walking as an Exercise

Don't count on a leisurely walk for weight loss or cardiovascular fitness.
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Let’s start with the advantages of walking. It’s easy. It burns calories. Anyone can do it. And, scientific research supports its efficacy at inducing and maintaining weight loss. So why not strap on a pedometer and go for the gold? Most studies compare walking to sedentary behavior, and it triumphs every time. No surprise. But compare walking to other forms of physical activity, and its disadvantages surface immediately.

Negligible Calorie Burn

If you look to exercise to burn calories and lose body fat, rethink walking. Running at a low to moderate pace, 5 miles per hour, burns nearly twice as many calories in an hour for a 135-pound woman than walking at a low to moderate pace, 3 miles per hour, for the same amount of time, 518 calories versus 267 calories respectively.

Neglects Upper Body

Walking targets only the muscles of the lower body, with the possible exception of engagement of the core musculature. For a more well-rounded training program, consider circuit training, which recruits all of the muscles of your body and increases lean muscle mass so you burn calories even when you are sitting. Walking can’t do that.

Reduced Cardiovascular Fitness

Vigorous intensity exercise confers greater aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health and protection when compared with moderate-intensity exercise, according to a review published in “The American Journal of Cardiology” comparing epidemiologic studies and clinical trials conducted over two years. The review also found improvements in diastolic blood pressure and glucose control relative to exercise intensity.

Reduced After-Burn Effect

Elevated post-exercise oxygen consumption, EPOC, correlates to increased calorie burn following exercise, which bodes well for those short on time. The “European Journal of Applied Physiology” published a study in its August 2005 issue comparing EPOC levels following circuit training and treadmill exercise of equivalent intensity. It found circuit training produced greater energy cost during the early phases of EPOC. Consequently, a circuit training program of similar intensity to walking burns more calories overall.

Effects on Appetite

Different forms of exercise affect appetite in different ways. Researchers at the University of Wyoming compared the self-selected meals consumed following running and walking exercise. The “Journal of Obesity” published their findings, which indicated runners consumed 500 fewer calories than the control group at rest, whereas walkers consumed only 150 fewer calories than the resting group. Though walking provided some reduction in appetite, more intense exercise modulated appetite hormones for decreased consumption.

Too Strenuous

Walking provides insufficient exercise for some people, but might be too strenuous for others. Those who have been sedentary for a long time or are obese are often encouraged to start exercising by walking. Others, though, who have existing injuries -- particularly to their knees, feet or ankles -- might consider water aerobics. Researchers from the University of Utah compared walking on land to water walking and published their results in the December 2006 issue of the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.” They found that both walking on land and in the water produced equally significant reductions in body weight, body fat percentage and girth.

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