For the longest time, cardio was touted as the best fat loss method out there. Fortunately, this has been disproved time and time again over recent years. While steady-state cardio can still have its place, today I want to make a case for why I think you should walk, not run, for fat loss.
There is no denying that LISS (low intensity steady state) cardio can be an effective tool for weight loss. I want to share a few glaring problems with this method and explain why I never suggest my clients get on the treadmill.
1 – Notice above I said effective tool for weight loss. I didn’t say fat loss. The biggest problem I have with cardio is that when you burn calories running, you are burning calories from fat AND muscle. Your body doesn’t pick and choose where the calories come from that it’s burning. This is very bad as you never want to decrease muscle mass on your body. Muscle is more metabolic and burns more calories at rest than does fat.
2 – Overexercising, or long duration cardio sessions, increase cortisol (a stress hormone) which can then lead to increased cravings and overcompensation for calories burned. So, while you may burn a couple hundred calories after spending an hour on the treadmill, when you get done you are ravenously hungry. Smoothies seem like healthy drinks so you pop in Jamba Juice on your way home and grab one because you “deserve a treat” and the drink ends up being more calories than what you just spent an hour on the treadmill trying to burn. So you could easily put yourself into a caloric surplus by running too often.
Over exercise has the same hormonal effects as sleep deprivation. Both make you leptin-resistant (unable to signal brain you’re full), both raise ghrelin (insatiable hunger) and eventually become insulin-resistant because cortisol is too high / too often. All of this in turn can lead to weight gain.
**Another caveat to cardiovascular exercise is the negative impact it potentially has on thyroid function. T4 (inactive) is the primary hormone produced by the thyroid. T4 is then converted to T3 (active) to be used in a properly functioning metabolism. Too high levels of cortisol not only impair the body’s ability to create the T4 hormone, it also suppresses the conversion of T4 to T3 which then leads to a dysfunctional metabolism. This equates to decreased ability to burn fat, lack of energy and a host of other issues.
3 – Running is considered a low impact exercise. However, as you increase your distance, that’s a lot of times you are banging your feet into the ground. Surfaces matter, along with great shoes, but if you are overweight, this is detrimental long-term to your joints (knees, in particular).
Recapping: cardio alone decreases muscle mass (causing metabolism to become less efficient), can disrupt hormonal balance (leading to weight GAIN) and can have a negative impact on your joint health.
While walking may not provide the same calorie burning effects as running (not the purpose), it can prove to be a healthier alternative for some individuals.
Where running increases cortisol, walking decreases it. This might not sound very sexy if burning calories is more important to you, but long-term this is much better for your overall health. When cortisol levels are lower, the opposite of all the negative effects mentioned above happen. You’re setting yourself up to be more insulin-sensitive and enabling calorie burning from other exercise. You’re able to manage and control hunger and cravings causing you to eat less naturally (eat less, exercise less = fat loss). You increase the presence of neurotransmitters like serotonin (comfort) and dopamine (motivation) that enhance mood and overall wellness. All of these less-fancy things lead to a happier, healthier you.
So how much should you walk? As much as possible! As we roll into Spring, if you live in a warmer climate try to get 30-60 minute outdoor leisure walks in at least 3 days a week. Go up to 6 days if possible. Replace those cardio sessions with walks. Try to schedule in other stress-relieving activities like a massage, sauna, hot bath, or even naps!
If you really want to ramp up your fat loss for beach body season, incorporate metabolic resistance training workouts into your regimen as well. 2-3 high intensity, 20-30 minute workouts done each week coupled with a well-written nutrition plan and you will never have to set foot on another treadmill again!