About 5 years ago I did some online training with a coach who was a figure competitor. She gave me an outline of weight workouts for the month and I asked her what I should do for cardio as I noticed it was missing. I learned that cardio was simply not part of the protocol and when I expressed my concerns of blowing up like a balloon, she promised if I lifted intensely and watched my nutrition I would get the results I was seeking.
You see, at that time I was running 4-5 times a week for about 3 miles, either mixing it up with sprints or doing steady state. I was also dreading every minute of it. I was never motivated, it hurt my back and my hips, and it sent my appetite through the roof.
I put constant pressure on myself to get 3 miles in for no particular reason except that 30 minutes was an acceptable minimum time to do cardio and I needed to burn more and more calories and get my heart rate up to breath hard. I was also lifting weights and trying to add some yoga in the mix. Still burning tons of calories, still not happy with my body, still a hungry girl.
Yet when this no cardio suggestion came about, I had a really difficult time accepting it. Long story short, with a little trust, I stopped the cardio and focused on weight lifting strictly for the few months I worked with her. Five years later I am stronger, happier, healthier, have more time, and have way better control of my appetite, still not making cardio a priority in my routine. I have since turned to walking my dog as the only consistent “cardio” with the exception of a few activities which I will further discuss. Here’s why.
It helps control appetite.
I was always hungry and I always felt under fueled. When I did eat more, I felt I would eat everything in sight. I craved salty treats, I craved sugary treats and I even when I was full, I never felt satisfied.
From experience I know that exercising too much and for too long can potentially have more of an effect on appetite. Studies even show that walking is one of the few exercises that does not trigger some type compensatory cravings, such as long steady state cardio or progressive heavy weight lifting. These activities are not bad per say but if they leave you feeling ravenous with little self control it might be better to choose exercises that don’t impact your hunger, cravings and appetite as much.
You don’t have to recover from it.
When I was running everyday and adding super intense exercise in like CrossFit, I simply could not recover. I would hit it hard for a couple weeks and then take a couple weeks off. I couldn’t workout on back to back days, or even every other day, without feeling weak and exhausted. I would show up at my workouts within minimal strength, energy and motivation. Walking is added movement that does not hinder your current fitness routine.
It reduces stress levels.
One of the worst feeling I had with exercise was at a point in my life when I was extremely stressed and would start my workout with my heart thumping from anxiety and stress, as if I was in the middle of a CrossFit workout. I quickly learned this was not the time to bump, or encourage, extremely intense exercise from metabolic conditioning to sprints, etc.
High stress levels can have an affect on your relationship, your mood, your well-being and your appetite. In any case, finding ways to reduce stress is crucial to our health and walking is one great way to do it. It can almost be meditative in a sense, boost your mood, get you outside and be a great time to reflect and take in your surroundings. I always come back from my walks with a new idea, story or perspective. It is also a great activity to spend more quality time with your family. More resources here and here.
I don’t have to plan my meals around it.
Ever try doing cardio at an odd time like after work around 6:00, when you afternoon snack was yogurt at 3:30 and now you are trying to push yourself through a tough workout, starving for dinner but don’t want to eat to much to make you feel sluggish doing cardio. I use to stress out about this but with walking I can eat before or after and don’t have to worry about timing. In fact, it is kinda of nice to walk around after dinner instead of sitting on the couch.
Is walking really my only cardio or exercise I do?
My primary form of exercise is lifting weights (3-4 times a week at moderate intensity. I also add in yoga and/or pilates once a week.
For cardio, I walk my dog from 10-40 minutes most days of the week.
Occasionally if it is a brisk day and there is no incline on the road (yes that is a requirement) I sprint for a block because its kind of fun to see how excited my dog gets and it makes me feel like a little kid.
Once a month I hike or swim because I simply love moving outside.
A few times every couple weeks I will do kettlebell swings, mountain climbers, jump rope or some sort of plyometric for for 20-30 seconds, rest until I recover and repeat 5 times. Usually takes about 4-7 minutes depending on the day and exercises.
A few times a year I get on a piece of cardio equipment for 10 minutes and do similar intervals that I just mentioned.
The bottom line.
Do what works for you. I know many runners and cardio goers who love it, but if it is not working or you absolutely dread it, or it leaves you in pain, don’t stick with it just because of the calorie burn or just because you are suppose too.
Walking fulfills my need for a daily physical accomplishment without overdoing it for my body. I like to move. I need to move. My body thanks me and I thank my body.