I want to preface this article with a very clear statement: walking is GREAT exercise! If it’s something you enjoy doing YOU SHOULD ABSOLUTELY KEEP DOING IT!! An hour of day or more of walking absolutely hits the ACSM guidelines for good heart health in regards to physical activity. We should always be striving for good hearth health!
Unfortunately, cardiovascular health is only a portion of the big picture of health. Also it’s not the right kind of work to address other key concerns of exercise.
What does walking do?
First, and most surprising to many, is that walking does not do a lot for our leg strength. With the exception of intensive hiking, typical walking activates the largest muscles of our legs minimally. Walking is often described as a controlled series of falls in the kinesiology world. And that description is relatively accurate.
One of the smaller muscles of lower leg essentially provides enough release to allow us to fall forward. A relatively small muscle group in our hips swings the leg to catch us and is assisted by our calf only minimally in this motion. The larger muscles like the gastrocnemius (responsible for outputting large loads in hopping type activities), and the muscles of our thighs which are capable of lifting multiple times our own bodyweight when well trained, are really only active enough to keep the leg from collapsing. As muscle only responds to higher load to stay or get strong, walking needs to be supplemented with a strength training program to ensure loaded activities such as climbing stairs, getting up off the floor, or carrying can be well supported.
Additionally, the amount of time spent in double limb support without major center of gravity changes actually does not do much to train our balance systems either. This is another system where if we don’t use it we lose it! We often find that walking alone is not enough to maintain good balance. Exercises like yoga and tai chi do much better in this realm.
Again, none of this is to say people should not go out for walks! The longer the better for your heart, so go for it! But, always ensure you are including a fully rounded program that addresses other aspects of your health!