A study in JAMA Internal Medicine describes a leveling off at 7,500 steps per day for study participants to reach a significant health benefit as compared to 10,000 steps per day. Walking is a simple but effective form of exercise that can help us lose weight, build muscle, and even fight depression.
As easy as it is for most people to walk, the science of walking is surprisingly in-depth. For example, regular walking is divided into several different stages just to understand taking one full step. Walking may even be better for you than running, as it offers similar health benefits while putting less strain on the body.
Anatomy of a Step
Each step we take is divided into four distinct stages. “The heel strike describes the moment the foot first touches the ground and lasts for literally just a split-second,” Dean Hodgkin, international fitness expert, said. “This is followed by the early flat foot stage, defined as the point where the whole of the foot is now in contact with the ground and the body’s center of gravity—located in the pelvis just in front of the bottom of the spine—is now moving forwards through the foot.”
Hodgkin explained that the early flat foot stage is a crucial moment in every step we take because it’s the exact moment that shock absorption takes place, which prevents injury.
The third phase of a step is called the late flat foot stage. “This is where the center of gravity actually passes forward of the neutral position and subconsciously the whole body structure changes from being flexible to absorb shock to being more rigid, enabling us to propel forwards,” Hodgkin said. Two to three times the body’s weight passes through the foot every single time the heel rises when we move at a walking gait, Hodgkin related.
The final phase is the “toe-off” phase, in which the foot begins to swing forward again. “[Additionally] a runner will go through what’s called a floating stage, describing the moment when both feet are off the ground,” Hodgkin said.
Walk, Don’t Run
As a fitness trainer, Hodgkin said that one of the most frequent conversations he has is with people who don’t believe walking could be as good for them as running. “Actually it’s a much healthier choice, as you’ll get all the benefits of running, such as toning the muscles, improving the cardiorespiratory system, strengthening the immune system, and controlling blood fats and stress hormones, but without the same risk of injury to your joints,” he said. He also said that runners put a strain on their joints of about five times their body weight with the impact of each step, compared to the two to three times body weight of walking. “Walking a mile burns just as many calories as running; it just takes longer.”
Additionally, studies show that adopting a regular walking regimen is great for mental health. “A walking program has been shown to produce significant gains in self-image, confidence, feelings of well-being, and just reducing depression,” Hodgkin said.
“But where walking really displays its value is in the area of injury, as exercise-related injuries are shown to be much lower than most other exercise formats,” Hodgkin added.
Dean Hodgkin contributed to this article. Voted Best International Fitness Presenter at the One Body One World awards in New York, he has appeared on numerous television and radio programs worldwide. Hodgkin earned a B.Sc. honors degree in Mathematics and Management Studies from the University of Portsmouth.