Yes, as the cardio component of your health and fitness regime. No, as the sole element in a well-rounded health and fitness programme. To be well-rounded, your programme needs to include cardio, strength, balance, flexibility and nutrition. Walking alone will not cover all aspects required for good health. However, it is a great choice for aerobic fitness.
Aerobic exercise is essential as it works the most important muscle in your body – your heart! When performing aerobic activities you breathe faster and more deeply in order to maximise the amount of oxygen in your blood. Your heart beats faster, increasing blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs. Your heart gains a workout as a result of the increased pumping which strengthens the organ and allows it to pump blood more efficiently. Your small blood vessels also widen to allow more oxygen to be delivered to your muscles and to carry away waste products, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid. The more aerobically fit you are, the more efficiently your heart, lungs and blood vessels can transport oxygen throughout your body.
Aerobic activity consists of exercise that uses large muscle groups in your arms, legs and hips and increases your heart rate. Walking fits the bill! However, because it is a less intensive form of exercise you have to walk for longer periods or do it more often to reap the benefits. Your walk should be brisk, where you can talk but not sing. Imagine the pace at which you would walk if you were trying to catch a bus that was about to pull off.
A great place to determine if you are walking fast enough is to count your steps. 100 steps per minute is considered brisk so time yourself for one minute and see how you fare. If you are not quite at 100 steps, you can use timing your steps per minute as an activity to diversify your walk. Keep pushing yourself until you reach or surpass this point. If you are walking on a treadmill you’ll want to walk at a speed of 3.5 miles/hour or higher. For an additional fun activity you can measure the distance of one mile and see how quickly you can walk this mile. If you can walk in 15 minutes or less you are doing well.
Remember if you are not at these points to begin with do not worry. Keep striving to improve each time. These points can become your goals. After you reach them, you can then set new goals for yourself.
You can get a very effective cardio workout from walking but do not neglect your strength, balance, flexibility and nutrition. Good luck!
Marita Greenidge runs the Health & Nutrition Division at Stansfeld Scott & Co. Ltd. She is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and a health & fitness enthusiast. She has a keen interest in power walking and writes a weekly blog at www.mfitfitnesswalking.com.