This myth (in my top 10 myths about fitness and nutrition) probably has your eyebrows raised because it’s a commonly held belief that walking is good for you since its exercise. Often we hear people say they’re “getting some exercise” when they’re referring to an evening stroll.
So if walking isn’t exercise, does it do nothing for you? Of course not. Walking is good for you because it is physical activity. See, physical activity and exercise are two different things. Physical activity refers to any movement above rest. Exercise refers to an activity that increases your heart rate and your breathing well above rest. Usually exercise is planned but it doesn’t have to be.
So essentially, all exercise is physical activity while not all physical activity is exercise. This concept is so poorly understood in our society that I’ve even heard exercise scientists like myself using these two terms interchangeably when they should not be.
Here’s why you should know the difference between the two: studies show that people who are physically active, meaning they are not sedentary, have a MUCH lower risk for developing chronic disease and thus a higher quality of life than inactive people. Also, physical activity burns calories. However, physical activity that is not challenging, like that evening stroll, will not improve one’s fitness. Only exercise actually improves fitness, which will decrease that risk for disease even further, and ensure that you can carry out your physically strenuous job tasks without over-exerting your cardiovascular system (experiencing a cardiac event). In other words, research shows that some firefighting tasks require a high level of fitness and only exercise will help you achieve that.
Ultimately, it’s very advantageous for all people to participate in both physical activity and exercise. However, getting exercise is even more important for firefighters than the general population, since they need to carry out highly challenging duties without harming themselves.
So don’t skip the walk. But, unless that walk is actually an uphill power-walk that increases your heart rate, probably don’t count your stroll as your exercise for the day.
Are you surprised? I’d love to hear your comments below.
If you’re not on my list to get more health tips like these, enter your name and email below.