There’s no shortage of data suggesting that walking is among the most useful forms of exercise. I’ll suggest that any form of regular walking is good for physical and cognitive fitness, though some forms of walking are better than others. Essentially though, there is the treadmill or the neighborhood.
I have lived much of my adult life in small towns surrounded by beauty of varying sorts. That these places have been as hilly as they are beautiful makes them great for outdoor walking – if only I found value in outdoor walking as a form of exercise. I don’t. Though I do take several short outdoor walks with my dog each day, as a form of physical fitness, I find much more value in the treadmill. When I tell people this, I’m more often met with eye rolls and disagreements than sincere interest.
Kinesis & Energy: Moving muscles burns calories. Muscle traveled greater distances equals more calories burned. By distance, in the case of walking, I’m referring to the height the stride. A more vertical walking stride (walking uphill) uses more muscle through a more complete range of motion than a horizontal stride (walking on a flat surface).
Women carry approximately 65% of their muscle below the hips, about 55% for men. When one walks uphill or up a steep incline, male or female, they will be lifting more than 25% of their bodyweight through a fairly complete range of motion before placing it back down.
Since a stride on a flat surface is more horizontal and less vertical, it is inherently done at a faster speed than walking uphill. The impact of the foot on a flat surface is actually greater and creates more stress on the ankles, knees, and low-back when done at a faster speed.
Walking uphill or on a steep incline, a person is not able to walk nearly as fast as on a flat. The slower speed minimizes the opportunity for repetitive motion disorders which are often caused by fast, momentum driven movements. Additionally, the angle of that incline actually diffuses the impact of the foot, and subsequently the ankles, the knees, hips, and the low-back.
Translation: Because of its slower speed and more vertical stride, walking uphill or up a steep incline is actually a much lower impact activity than walking on a flat or downhill surface, and is also more cardio intensive. I’ll suggest though, that walking on a treadmill at a steep grade should be done without holding onto the handle. Holding on allows the individual to lean buck, diffusing the incline.
Recommendation: If you’re going to walk outside, and do so as a means of cardio, calorie burning or conditioning, I’ll suggest attacking the uphill sections. However, go easy and slow down on the downhill and flat sections since they have a greater impact on your body, the knees in particular. Whether you choose to walk on a treadmill or outdoors in the neighborhood, stand tall – shoulders directly over hips as much as possible, and be a heel striker with your lead foot, this will minimize stress on the knees.
Walking outdoors is a great activity. Again, I do this several times per day. Being in nature and moving is a cognitive therapy which is almost unequalled. As a form of calorie burning or conditioning, I’ll suggest treadmill walking at a steep grade will serve you better. Be well… rc
Fitness trainer, Roy Cohen is available for online consulting and training. Click here to learn more.
Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Chris Cornell. Enjoy!