On NPR this morning, I heard Renee Montagne utter this intriguing line, “About half of all Americans say they exercise regularly.” I literally laughed out loud as exercise is a big topic of conversation this week in my house, with my parents visiting from Florida. My dad had a second heart surgery last summer and my mom has high cholesterol, and they really would benefit from regular exercise. I know this. They know this. And yet….they are not among the apparently half of Americans exercising regularly.
Maybe peer pressure (as opposed to kid pressure) would help? So I listened keenly. In fact, after noting that half of Americans say they exercise regularly, Renee continued with proof that it’s true:
“That’s the finding of a recent poll NPR conducted with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The most popular exercises are cardio/aerobic using treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationery bikes. But leading the pack: going for a walk!”
I looked up the poll: Sports And Health In America. Published in June 2015, this study interviewed 2,506 adults age 18 and older who were interviewed on the phone, in English and Spanish, between January 29 – March 8, 2015. While this study is 50+ pages of intriguing facts, one thing I did not see is a breakout of exercise among those age 70+, which I could have used as fodder for exercise discussion with my parents. Sigh.
But no matter – there was a really key nugget for me to use with my folks! After Renee’s introduction, the Health News story, “Take A Hike To Do Your Heart And Spirit Good” continued with Patti Neighmond discussing a topic near and dear to my heart (literally, sorry for bad pun) – is walking REALLY exercise?
Because I’m of two minds about walking. For my parents, I have tried and tried to get them to believe that walking is vital – that to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and have a healthier heart, they need to WALK. Daily. That the lower energy my father feels sometimes – one year after heart surgery – is because he’s not exercising enough – and his cardiologist has said the same thing! I’ve purchased iPods (and set up remote IT sessions to load music) and workout clothes. I’ve asked. I’ve noodged. I’ve cajoled. To mixed effect (that said, big kudos to you, Dad, for you for getting on the treadmill at my house this am – color me very impressed!)
And yet – when I was injured this winter and could not play tennis or spin for several months, I didn’t walk. Instead, I was a slug (a very sad slug) so I did nothing – and gained weight and let my cardio conditioning lapse. All because as much as I harp on my folks about how walking is exercise, I guess I have never believed it counts as ‘real’ exercise.
Turns out, it does.
In her piece, Patti Neighmond asked: “Is Walking Really Exercise?” (emphasis is mine). She even asked it the same way I would, with some degree of snark:
“But are they kidding themselves to think a moderate walk is really helping them much, exercise-wise? Should we all be power-walking or jogging if we want to count that activity as good for us?”
She went on to answer:
“Dr. Tim Church, who studies the effects of physical activity at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, is reassuring on that score.”
He says, “Too many people think you have to exercise really, really hard to get a benefit, and nothing could be further from the truth. You’re actually getting probably 95 percent or more of the benefits when you’re walking as compared to jogging.”
The NPR story is about five minutes long and I found it pretty interesting: you can listen to it here.
Ms. Neighmond wraps up with this recommendation: “Federal Health Officials suggest 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity. That’s about 30 minutes, five days a week. If you’re walking, it would be a moderate pace – so you can still carry on a conversation.”
What’s a moderate pace? Well, it depends, of course, on your overall fitness level. According to the Center for Disease Control’s very interesting Measuring Physical Activity Intensity page, a moderate pace is a ‘brisk walk’ of 3 mph or faster; doing the math, that translates to a pace of 20 minutes per mile. That said, according to an article I found on about.com, How Fast Is Brisk Walking, “fitter people still will not be in a moderately intense exercise zone at that pace. A pace of 15 minutes per mile, or four miles per hour, is more likely to put fitter people into a moderately intense exercise zone.”
Personally, I’m inspired by goals – so knowing the pace I should be targeting is inspiring. Others like to count steps: I know many people using a FitBit to hit a daily step goal (have you read David Sedaris’ hilarious FitBit story, Stepping Out? And, um, I had no idea my iPhone 5 was counting my steps for the past year! Check out the ‘health’ app: your’s might be too!) For others, counting steps or tracking to a particular pace is not fun (gasp!) – for these folks, just getting out there and walking with a friend no matter the pace is what matters.
So find what inspires you … and just get out there and walk!