In his new book “Beat the Gym,” fitness expert Tom Holland asserts that “walking is not exercise.” Whoa!!!
Holland, an exercise physiologist, knows these are fighting words. And he qualifies his unpopular position by adding that walking is great if you have a bunch of weight to lose, want to maintain basic cardiovascular health or are de-conditioned, elderly, injured or just beginning an exercise program.
But Holland argues that “walking alone will not be enough to radically change your body. Or even maintain your weight in many cases.” For a workout to be effective, it needs to be “vigorous” and “sustained,” he wrote.
“It really comes down to simple math,” he said in an email. “The caloric expenditure of walking is simply not enough to counterbalance food intake. A 140-pound person walking at 4 miles per hour burns roughly 288 calories in one hour. That's about 4 Oreos worth.”
Walkers often make two basic mistakes: “They overestimate the number of calories they burn and two, they walk at too low an intensity to get a true workout effect,” Holland said.
I ran this past Mark Fenton, one of the nation’s leading walking advocates and an adjunct professor at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Fenton agreed that slow walking -- or slow jogging – doesn’t melt calories as efficiently as you might think.
But one of the benefits to walking is that “you can start at a pedestrian pace if you're de-conditioned, elderly, very overweight, overcoming injury – all the things Holland mentioned -- and work your way back gradually,” said Fenton, the author of the book “The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness."
“As fitness increases, you can increase calories burned by walking faster, adding hills, Nordic (with poles) walking, going longer, and of course adding other activities.”
Ultimately, both men recommend variety to keep things interesting and steer clear of injuries. Fenton’s current routine involves a few days of walking as well as kayaking and stand up paddleboarding (a form of surfing), biking and trail running.
Holland swears he will always go to the gym to get his endorphin high from sweaty cardio but urges his readers to mix up their routines and take on new challenges that seem out of reach.
“Petrified of swimming? Sign up for a triathlon,” he suggested. “Push your limits. Take yourself just outside your comfort zone. Stay here awhile. Life is short, and we must all appreciate our health while we have it. Never, ever take it for granted.”