Common Walking Myths Can Lead to Injuries

Walking with Weights

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The benefits of walking are many. You can maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your joints and muscles, improve your mood and coordination, and prevent or manage many serious health conditions (including heart disease and diabetes). But to do so requires you to approach walking wisely.

And that is where education is important. Walking, as with any other form of fitness, has more than its share of myths that not only undermine these goals but place people directly in harm's way. Many of these beliefs are so popular that it can often be difficult to tell which are true and which are not.

It's time to bust a few of the more common myths and misperceptions.

You Burn the Same Calories Regardless of Pace

While vigorous activity burns more calories than moderate activity over the same period of time, speed plays only plays a part in how many calories you can burn per mile. In fact, if you walk briskly for a mile, you will burn the same calories as if you ran a mile.

We can measure this using a scale called metabolic equivalents (MET) which tells us how many calories per kilogram are being burned per hour. On average, walking translates to a MET of between two and eight, depending on speed. Running, by comparison, achieves a MET of anywhere from eight to 18.

While that may sound like a big difference, the variation is mostly due to the distance covered by the same amount of time. Running or fast walking simply gets you there faster; it doesn't change the mileage. What this tells us is that a runner and a fast walker who move at an average speed of five miles per hour will both achieve a MET of eight.

What this shouldn't suggest is that slow walking for five miles will burn the same calories as sprinting the same distance. It's really more about how efficiently your muscles are being used. For example, you can burn more calories per mile if you use racewalking techniques as they engage more muscles than regular walking. By contrast, slow walking burns fewer calories per mile as you tend to lose momentum and use fewer muscles like your arms, shoulders, hips, and back are less engaged.

You Need to Drink a Lot of Water When Walking

While it's true that many of us don't drink enough water during the course of a day, going overboard is also not a good idea. The guidelines for endurance exercise are pretty straightforward: drink when thirsty. Drinking too much poses a problem known as hyponatremia, a condition where the level of salt in your body is too low.

To ensure you are properly hydrated, follow a few simple tips:

  • Drink a tall glass of water an hour before walking.
  • If you plan to walk for more than one hour, get a sports drink to replace some of your lost body salts (electrolytes). Drink when thirsty.
  • Weigh yourself immediately before and after a long walk. If you gained weight, you were drinking too much. If you lost weight, you weren't drinking enough.

Arm and Ankle Weights Amp up Your Powerwalking

While there is some truth that added weight can burn more calories when walking, wearing arm weights, ankle weights or weighted shoes can be hazardous when walking. Nearly every physical therapist will strongly recommend against this as it increases the risk of injury, sometimes serious.

While (in theory) adding more weight should increase calorie burn, in practice, it often doesn't. The extra weight increases effort and many people slow down. The result is that there is no increased calories burn, according to research.

As for muscle-building benefits, most people choose weights that are less than five pounds for walking. Think about all the things you pick up and move during the day—groceries, stacks of dishes, baskets of laundry, or kids. Most of these things weigh more than that. You'll get stronger by doing separate strength workouts with heavier weights that challenge your muscles.

Also, while there aren't many benefits of walking with weights, there are definite risks. Swinging a weight at the end of your arm may increase your risk of shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries. Weights at your ankles, increase impact and may affect joints in your lower body like your ankles and knees. And as you fatigue, you can't just put the weights down, which may impair your coordination and balance, making you more susceptible to falling.

Fitness walking poles are a good alternative if you want to add a challenge to your powerwalking. They not only tone your upper body, but they can also help relieve strain on your hips, knees, and ankles.

Beginners Can Prepare for a Marathon in 3 Months

About five months is the bare minimum for first timers training to walk a marathon. Most need 9-12 months—but that's no reason not to set this inspiring goal.

It is great when people decide to set fitness goals for themselves. It is why many will decide to start training for a marathon. It not only provides them a concrete goal to shoot for, it gives them a specific date by which to reach that goal. While admirable, any person wanting to walk a marathon will need to approach training sensibly.

Before marathon training even begins, you will need to assess your baseline fitness, ideally with a fitness professional. If you are already walking miles 12 miles on weekends, you should be able to train for a marathon in about 19 weeks. If you're walking less or not at all, you should plan on nine to 12 months to safely prepare.

If you are an absolute beginner, plan on training anywhere from nine months to a year ahead of the target marathon. If you have already set your mind on one but only have three to six months, set a goal of doing a half-marathon instead—it's a great first step towards a full marathon.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Campaña CT, Costa PB. Effects of walking with hand-held weights on energy expenditure and excess postexercise oxygen consumptionJ Exerc Rehabil. 2017;13(6):641-646. Published 2017 Dec 27. doi:10.12965/jer.1735100.550

Additional Reading
  • Slaght, J.; Senechal, M.; Hrubeniuk, T. et al. "Walking Cadence to Exercise at Moderate Intensity for Adults: A Systematic Review." Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017; article ID 4641203.