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It Can Actually Help You Lose Weight - The Benefits of Walking!

Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK

With an increasingly aging population in North America the need for a safe and effective exercise regime is needed.  As the Baby Boomers approach the golden years high impact exercises like running have taken a back seat to other lower impact exercise modalities such as cycling and walking.  The search for a low impact, effective, and health promoting workout can be found very easily by walking on a daily basis.  As such, walking is now the most popular form of exercise among North Americans.


It is a year-round, readily repeatable, self-reinforcing, habit-forming activity and the main option for increasing physical activity in sedentary populations. Walking is ideal as a gentle start-up for the sedentary, including the inactive, immobile elderly, bringing a bonus of independence and social well-being.


Walking is a rhythmic, dynamic, aerobic activity of large skeletal muscles that results in numerous benefits and minimal adverse effects. Walking, faster than customary, and regularly in sufficient quantity into the 'training zone' of over 70% of maximal heart rate, develops and sustains physical fitness.


Muscles of the legs, pelvis and lower trunk are strengthened and the flexibility of their joints preserved; as a result, posture and carriage may improve. Any amount of walking, and at any pace, expends energy and therefore the potential for long term weight control as a result of walking is present.


Dynamic aerobic exercise, as in walking, enhances a multitude of bodily processes that are inherent in skeletal muscle activity, including the metabolism of high density lipoproteins and insulin/glucose dynamics. Walking is also the most common weight-bearing activity, and there are indications at all ages of an increase in related bone strength. Walking is beneficial through engendering improved fitness and/or greater physiological activity and energy turnover. 


There is, nevertheless, growing evidence of gains in the prevention of heart attack and reduction of total death rates, in the treatment of hypertension, intermittent claudications and musculoskeletal disorders, and in rehabilitation after heart attack and in chronic respiratory disease.


The following are some examples of the benefits of walking on a regular basis:


Benefits of regular walking while golfing


A study by Parkkari and colleagues investigated the potential health benefits of walking while playing 18 holes of golf among 55 sedentary men aged 48-64.  After the 20-week study, the researchers found that the golfers (playing 2-3x/week) who walked while playing showed significant improvements in aerobic endurance and core endurance.  In addition, they also found that walking favourably affected body composition, including reductions in weight of 1.4 kg, in waist circumference by 2.2 cm, and abdominal skin fold thickness by 2.2 cm.  The golfers who walked also showed improved cholesterol and HDL/LDL levels in the blood.  


Walking to prevent osteoporosis in the elderly


Because bone structure is maintained by the force of gravity (upright posture) and the lateral forces resulting from muscular contraction, weight bearing activities such as walking are better than cycling and swimming for maintaining spine and hip mineral integrity.  Further, it may be safer to stay with a walking program since walking only produces forces up 1.5-2x body weight on each foot strike versus running which imposes forces of up to 3-4x  body weight during each foot strike.  As such, injuries are not as common in walking when compared to running.


Research has shown that as little as 2-3 hours of weight bearing exercise (ie. walking) per week may reduce the expected rate of bone mineral loss with age.


Walking to reduce cardiovascular events


Numerous studies have shown the benefits of walking in preventing cardiovascular disease.  A 2002 study in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that walking on a regular basis was associated with substantial reductions in the incidence of cardiovascular events among 73,743 postmenopausal women.   


Other studies displaying the inverse relationship between walking and cardiovascular events are very common including a study by Rastogi and colleagues who showed that as much as 35-40 minutes per day of brisk walking was protective for coronary heart disease.


Walking for weight loss


As previously mentioned walking is a form of physical activity, and therefore burns calories.  Obviously, the amount of energy expenditure will depend on the nature and intensity of the exercise.  It has been shown that for walking speeds of up to 3.5 mph the caloric expenditure is 0.77 kcal/kg/mile.   Therefore, if you weigh 75 kg and walked at 4 mph, you would be burning 58 kcal/mile.  Over 10 miles that would equate to 580 kcal.  This number is roughly half of what you would burn if running at 7 mph.


Regardless of your speed, walking is ideal for burning fat since its intensity (<70% max) is in the zone in which fatty acids are the primary source of fuel.  Again, fats are predominantly used as fuel during low-intensity, long-duration activities such as walking. 


According the American College of Sports Medicine, a gradual progression is indicated from slow, to regular pace and on to 30-60 minutes of brisk (55-70% max HR) walking 3-5 days/week. These levels should achieve the major gains of activity and health-related fitness without adverse effects.


NOTE: The above information is for information purposes only. None of the information herein should be construed as a claim for cure, treatment or prevention of any disease. All matters regarding physical health should be referred to a qualified health-care professional. Consult a health-care professional before beginning any fitness or nutrition program.



Copyright 2006 © Total Wellness Consulting.



Parkkari, J. (2000).  A controlled trial of health benefits of regular walking on a golf course.  Am J Med, 109(2): 102-108.

Smith, E & Gilligan, C. (1987).  Effects of inactivity and exercise on bone.  The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 15(11): 91-102.

Manson, J. et al (2002).  Walking compared with vigorous exercise for the prevention of cardiovascular events in women.  N Eng J Med, 347: 716-725.

Rastogi, T. (2004).  Physical activity and risk of coronary heart disease in India.  Int J Epidem, 33(4); 759-767.

Howley, E. (1992).  Health/Fitness Instructor’s Handbook, 2nd ed.  Human Kinetics Publishing, Inc: Champaign, IL.








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