The Walking Shred(ded): Health Benefits of Walking Are Huge

Man walking

Man walking | Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

Walking may be the most simple and easy exercise or physical activity that you can do. We all walk, every day, as a matter of necessity — whether we need to get ourselves to work, or even if it’s just getting off the couch to see what’s in the fridge or use the bathroom. Walking is an effective exercise, too; even presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said she walks to get enough exercise on the campaign trail.

But for those of you who are serious about losing weight and getting in shape, walking isn’t an exercise that’s likely a fixture on your workout regimen. More than likely, if you want to get a calorie-crushing cardio session in, you’re probably going to run, or swim. That’s more than a solid plan — though research says we shouldn’t overlook walking so easily.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas have found that the process of walking actually burns considerably more energy (calories) than previously thought. That means that it could be more effective as a weight loss tool, and that simple measures to be more active throughout the day — say, taking a walk at lunch or using the stairs rather than the elevator — will have a bigger impact than predicted.

The reason for the miscalculation has to do with equations, developed decades ago, that are based on very limited data. Basically, scientists put together a series of calculations and equations designed to give a ballpark figure of how many calories the process of walking burns off, without giving any real context to where, how, and who was doing the walking. If you’re bigger, for example, it’s going to take more energy to move your body forward a few steps than if you’re underweight. So, you’ll burn more calories as a result — the old equations didn’t take that into account.

couple holidng hands and walking in the park

Couple going for a walk | Source: iStock

“Under firm, level ground conditions, the leading standards are relatively inaccurate and have significant bias. The standards predicted too few calories burned in 97 percent of the cases researchers examined,” an SMU press release says. “A new standardized equation developed by SMU scientists is about four times more accurate for adults and kids together, and about two to three times more accurate for adults only.”

To expand on that, SMU physiologist Lindsay Ludlow explained that the new calculations are far more in-depth when looking at a number of variables. “Our new equation is formulated to apply regardless of the height, weight and speed of the walker,” Ludlow said, per SMU’s study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

The biggest change between the old equations and the equations from SMU is that the new ones incorporate the influence of the size of an individual’s body — meaning that your height and weight require different energy requirements to performs specific actions. The old equations incorporated an underlying assumption that all individuals were more or less the same size; and that was their fatal flaw.

Those old equations? SMU says that they never were really tested, or critically evaluated until now. In fact, we don’t even know the exact dates that they were developed. We do know that they are around 40 years old and were calculated by researchers from the American College of Sports Medicine, for military use, by studying metabolism data from soldiers.

a man walking

A man walking | Source: iStock

So, the good news from SMU is that you’re probably burning more calories over the course of a day than you thought. While most of us don’t actually sit down and do the math to try and figure out our energy expenditures for walking, just know that there is a little more buffer, depending on your body size and type, when trying to figure out your caloric needs and metabolic rate. This is especially good news for those trying to lose weight.

It can also be a good way to help those who are apprehensive about starting to exercise to get the ball rolling — previously, going for a walk meant you were only going to be burning relatively few calories. Now, you can bump that figure up a bit, and know that a walk at lunchtime, or in the evening before bed, is going to do more for you in terms of reaching your goals than you thought.

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