You’d rather be building a six-pack than drinking one, but you can’t seem to muster the energy to do more than lift your hand from the pack of chips to your mouth after a long day’s work. You need to exercise, but it feels like if you’re not pushing your body hard, then there’s no point. That kind of all-or-none thinking is a mistake. You don’t need to try and become a professional bodybuilder to build muscle. In fact, something as gentle and simple as walking can certainly build healthy muscle (I’d also like to mention that it’s free!).
Will you become the next Schwarzenegger doing a 40 minute walk around the block? Nope, not even close. But that’s not really the point, is it? The main goal of eating better and moving our bodies is to become healthier. It’s about functional fitness, not just how good you look in a swimsuit. You may be surprised to discover just how many muscles walking activates. Those muscles include calf muscles, tibialis anterior and ankle extensor muscles, hamstring muscles, quadricep muscles, hip flexor muscles, buttock muscles, abdominal muscles, and arm and shoulder muscles. If you’re not an exercise physiologist then some of those names may have gone right over your head, but rest assured knowing walking is doing your body good.
If you think about it, intense exercise (e.g., Crossfit or Calisthenics) is a relatively new invention. Our grandparents didn’t have the same sedentary lifestyles we do, but they also weren’t swinging 30kg kettlebells, while trying to break a box jump record. In fact, studies have shown that the longest-lived people, those living in areas called ‘Blue Zones’ (e.g., Okinawa, Japan), engage in gentle sustained exercise on a daily basis. These are the longest-lived people in the world, so we should probably take notes about what they are doing. At the same time, the proliferation of muscle and joint injuries is dramatically increasing among those who participate in more intense forms of exercise. Although crossfit can give you a rockin’ bod, it can also give you spine disc bulges and vertebral fractures.
But because intense exercise has become so popular, we tend to undervalue the benefits of more gentle and less ‘exciting’ exercise like walking. Six months of gentle walking on a treadmill resulted in marked improvements in muscle strength and balance for a group of seniors with down syndrome. If gentle treadmill walking strengthens muscle, imagine what a multi-day bush walk could do for you? You can easily ramp up the muscle-building power of your walks by walking up and down hills, lengthening your stride, and walking faster.
So before you crash on your coach to watch the latest episode of Gogglebox, lace up your sneakers and take a walk around the block for some muscle-building benefits.