Why walking is the best exercise, period

It’s not one of Stephen King’s most popular books, but as a “fitness person” who sometimes finds herself slogging away on a treadmill, it’s one that comes to my mind frequently. The Long Walk is about a scary dystopian world involving a grueling competition where 100 young men participate in a walking contest (starting along the Maine/Canada border and continuing down the eastern seaboard) where the only winner is the last one left alive and on their feet. The victor gets a lifetime of fame and fortune, and the rest walk themselves, slowly and painfully, to death. As always, King sets the scene incredibly — the dread, the monotony— and this lifelongfan can’t help but commiserate with the characters when I’m spending too much time on the treadmill.

But let’s not be too dramatic, shall we? Simple movement doesn’t have to be monotonous, and walking is — in my opinion and in the opinion of many people smarter than I am — the best form of exercise for anyone, regardless of fitness level.

Because everyone likes a bullet-point list, here are some reasons why walking is the best:

- It’s low impact, so you can usually get it done painlessly (unless you have a specific injury)

- It can be done anywhere with no equipment or expense

- It’s a meditative, highly evolutionary, and natural movement that helps reduce stress and can increase creativity and concentration (walking meeting, anyone?)

- If you go for a walk after eating, it can improve glucose control and help you digest your food

- Many of us don’t need more high-intensity workouts and ways stress our bodies; we need more low-level, low-intensity movement throughout the day. Those super challenging workouts five days a week may be great, but sitting around the rest of the day isn’t. It’s not as sexy as powerlifting or pilates, but we need to place more importance on simply moving our bodies as much as we can. This low-level movement, in addition to being good for your body and brain, will also help you burn calories and decrease body fat over time.

- There’s a study indicating that walking speed is positively correlated with longevity. If this is the case, me and a bunch of New Yorkers are gonna live forever…but the takeaway is, a nice brisk walk is best. It will get the blood flowing, help you burn fat, clear your mind, and help you live longer. It’s like magic. Except it’s not magic, it’s walking, so it’s even easier and more practical.

But walking’s boring, you say? Walking isn’t boring; you’re boring.

Ok, that was harsh — but what I mean is, if you find walking boring, get creative with it. Go for a hike (if you think a hike in the woods is boring, well, I can’t help you) or a walk in a new neighborhood; walk and talk with a friend; listen to an educational or entertaining podcast while you meander; and if you must be on a treadmill, jack up the old incline and work up a sweat. If you’re challenging yourself, even a treadmill workout can go by relatively quickly (despite the fact that it really was originally created as a torture device).

I’m not telling you to replace your high-level training protocol with an after-dinner stroll; I’m simply asking you to consider adding that after-dinner stroll, regardless of how fit or strong you are. And maybe adding an after-lunch stroll, or a morning power walk in there, too. The aim isn’t to kill yourself and max out your heart rate, so there’s no worry about overdoing it — walk as much and as often as you can (just short of The Long Walk, maybe). And if you aren’t already following a plan, and you’re feeling stuck and want to start somewhere, start with walking. Schedule it into your day just like anything else important, grab a friend or a great podcast, and hit the hills, or the sidewalk, or the treadmill. I promise it will improve your mood and your fitness.

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