Is regular walking enough to keep you strong and fit? Several women in their 50s and 60s who walk daily have told me that their walking routine provides ample aerobic exercise. They achieve a minimum of 10,000 steps daily, which is an established recommendation. Certainly, regular walking is very beneficial for general heart-lung health, mobility, balance, posture, psychological and mental health.  It can also help the management of lower back pain, body weight and other physical functions that I highlighted in a previous blog. However, is walking enough physical activity to offset some of the decline in strength as you age? No. Walking is not enough!

Let’s consider why this is the case, and what you can do about it……..


Why walking is not enough!

While the benefits of walking can be substantial, only walking – as a singular activity — is typically not considered a high intensity form of exercise.  Unless you are trekking on steep terrain, walking fails to provide adequate and intense stimuli to the muscles required for gains in muscle size and strength. Consequently, even regular walking will not offset the losses in muscle strength and power that can start in our 40s.  And strength loss accelerates and can be substantial from 60 years onward. On average, healthy older adults at 80 years of age retain only about 50% strength and power compared to levels during their youth.


What can you do about it?

The International and national activity guidelines recommend at least 150-300 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity weekly or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity weekly.   (A mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity can also be performed.)  But, since walking is not enough, muscle strengthening exercises help maintain or gain muscle vigor.  Strength training exercise are effective, even for a short periods of time and several days a week. And here is the important fact: People 18-64 years should engage in muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity involving all the major muscle groups on two or more days a week because these strength exercises provide additional health benefits.  For older adults 65 years and over, this is highly recommended.

In fact, it’s not just middle aged and older people who benefit from additional strength training. Most competitive athletes supplement their training with several session of strengthening because it optimizes their performance! Everyone will benefit in their health and daily activities if they perform several brief sessions of strengthening exercise a week.

Strengthening exercises will challenge your arms, leg and core muscles in ways that walking cannot achieve.  The increase in strength experienced with a routine and guided exercise programs can delay and offset the atrophy of muscle (loss of muscle) that gradually occurs as people age. I wrote about the effects of aging and strengthening exercise in another blog highlighting a specific research study.  The study demonstrated that older women increased their leg strength substantially when they performed brief bouts lower limb resistance strength training three times a week for 12 weeks.


Where and how do I start?

Start simple with achievable goals. Since walking is not enough, perform exercises using your own body weight. You can add additional resistance in the form of hand weights, weight machines, and resistance bands. However, using your body weight as resistance allows you to build a base level of strength quickly. You can start with standard exercises such as leg raises, sit-to-stand exercises, push-ups, toe raises, and planks. If floor exercises are difficult for you, there are many other exercises performed in a standing position or using a chair. You don’t need to create a home gym!

A 10-20-minute strengthening workout, performed twice a week, will reap rewards.  If pushups and lunges appear daunting based on your strength level, you can perform “assisted” exercises.  Therefore, make use of a wall, a doorframe, or a table for support and stability.  For example, you can begin with standing wall push-ups, or steady yourself with your arms on the back of sofa while performing a leg lunge.  Below are some exercise routines we have published before that can complement your walking and aerobic activities.  Try these challenges below.

To help you be active, try some of the exercise challenges from 2020.

Challenge 1       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 2       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 3       6 Week aerobic exercise – running 

Challenge 4       6 Week aerobic exercise – walking 

Challenge 5       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 6       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 7       7-Day strength-based exercises 

Challenge 8       7-Day strength and aerobic exercises