The past few weeks I’ve been focusing on the positive benefits of high intensity training, so this week I wanted to focus on a slower activity that will still help you lose weight, improve your health, and extend your life - walking.
Walking is my number 1 recommendation
If I were to sum up in one sentence how to lose weight and improve your health it would be cut out added sugar and walk at least an hour a day. Now I don’t mean do an hour workout every day, I mean that you should accumulate a total of 60 minutes of walking a day. In fact, the more you spread it out throughout your day, the more beneficial it will be.
The confusing research on sitting all day
A while back there was a story circulating around nearly every news outlet about how sitting all day will kill you, even if you exercise. Later, a new story said that fidgeting while at your desk countered the effects of sitting all day, and earlier this year, another study concluded that regular activity actually decreases the health risks from sitting all day. How can all these studies have such different conclusions? Which one is right? They’re actually all correct once you understand why sedentary behavior hurts you and activity helps you.
It’s all about creating the right environment
I’ve mentioned before the importance of changing your body’s chemistry so it works for you instead of against you. One of the ways it works against you is with insulin resistance. Eating too much sugar floods your system with insulin. Insulin tells your muscle cells to store any sugar in your blood stream, but if they’re already full of sugar, then it just floats around your system until it’s eventually converted into fat in your liver. The problem is that in the meantime your muscles are being trained to ignore signals from insulin, which causes you to become insulin resistant.
When you become insulin resistant, your body takes longer to deal with the sugar in your blood stream. The longer it sits in your system, the more of it sticks to your blood cells, turning them into little chunks of sandpaper that shred your blood vessels. That’s the part where it impacts your health. Studies are finding that this not only shortens peoples lifespans, but it saddles them with disabilities like blindness, hearing problems, chronic pain, movement problems, brain degeneration, and amputations.
Where it impacts your weight is because insulin also tells your fat cells to store any fat you consume and to not release it. Your muscle cells may not listen to all the insulin coursing through your veins, but your fat cells keep listening to the order to store as much fat as possible. That’s why I focus so much on improving your insulin sensitivity throughout these articles. A calorie is not a calorie, and two people do not deal with the same calorie the same way. Improved insulin sensitivity means you will use less insulin to get the same job done. Less insulin also means less fat storage.
This is also why breaking up your workouts throughout the day results in more fat loss. When you exercise (even walking), your body uses a different mechanism to deliver sugar to working muscles. Not to mention the fact that you need to deplete your stored sugar at some point so your body actually has somewhere to store any additional sugar that you do eat. This effect continues a little while after the activity as well, so in the short-term if you do eat sugar, your body will use less insulin to deal with it, and in the long-term your insulin sensitivity will improve.
There is plenty of research that shows the benefits of simply moving more verses vigorous exercise. One study found that in communities where people walk more, they are less likely to develop obesity or diabetes. Other researchers have found that frequent moderate activity like walking is one of the characteristics common to all blue zones, which are regions of the world where people tend to live measurably longer, healthier lives. New research has shown that frequent moderate activity like brisk walking significantly reduced the risks of developing 13 different types of cancer. And as I mentioned in the article on your microbiome, walking outside also increases the amount of good bacteria in your body which improves your health and mental well-being. It’s one of the ways that regular walks can decrease the symptoms of depression and improve your mood.
Walking workouts work, but so do walks
If you mix up your walking speed with an interval workout, you can greatly increase the calories burned during a walking workout. This is one of the principles behind the walking workouts in our BeatBurn Treadmill/Outdoor Trainer, but I also suggest you mix in walks throughout your day that you don’t consider workouts. You don’t need to move fast to improve your insulin sensitivity and set up your body to work for you, you just need to move frequently. I’ve said before, that your body will trick you into moving less the rest of the day when you are dieting and exercising to lose weight. You need to ignore that voice in your head that tells you to just sit there and do whatever you were considering doing later. The common ideas of park farther away from the store or office, take the stairs, etc are all great ways to get a little extra movement in here and there, but I also suggest scheduling some longer walks into your day. Don’t even think of it as a workout. Just think of it as a relaxing stroll to clear your head, get outside, and/or enjoy time with family and friends. Our all-or-nothing mindsets make us think we have to either be sitting or doing crossfit. Just mix frequent movement into your day, and the positive changes will start to add up.