You’ve probably heard the sayings, “Everything in moderation,” and “Too much of a good thing.” It’s hard to believe that these sayings can apply to something healthy, like walking. Believe it or not, it’s possible to experience negative effects of walking too much. When the quantity of the activity exceeds the quality, the benefits start to decrease.
The generally accepted gold standard for walking is to hit 10,000 steps per day. Turns out, this originated in 1965, when a Japanese company marketed a 10,000-steps meter, and despite not actually being based in science, has continued to be the guideline that many people follow today.
However, one Harvard study shows that you can reap the benefits from only 7,500 steps per day, whereas the federal government recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. Thanks to the easy availability of pedometers and other wearable activity trackers, it’s relatively easy to figure out how many steps you take per day, or how many minutes of activity you do.
Despite being a low-impact activity, is walking too much actually bad for you? What are the negative effects of walking too much? What are symptoms that indicate you need to scale back on the daily steps? It can be hard to know, since everyone is at a different fitness level. However, let’s assume that you’ve recently started walking as part of your new fitness plan. Here are 10 signs and symptoms of excessive walking, and suggestions for how to avoid the negative effects of walking too much.
10 Signs and Symptoms of Excessive Walking
1/ New Aches and Pains
If you’re suddenly experiencing joint pain, pain in the feet, or muscle soreness and can’t tie it back to a specific injury, are all signs that you could be overtraining. The RICE method—Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation—is one way to help treat these pains. Taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, can also treat pain. If pain becomes chronic, it’s time to take a break and see a doctor.
2/ Worn-out Shoes
As you start racking up the miles, you might notice some of those aches and pains go away when you wear a different pair of shoes. Flip your favorite walking shoes over to look at the tread – are they looking like bald tires? Does the cushioned midsole feel flat, too flexible, or unsupportive? Are there spots on the mesh and inside that have tears or significant wear spots? If so, it’s probably time to replace your shoes.
Footwear designed for walking and running should be able to get between 300 and 500 miles before needing to be replaced, and insoles generally last the life of two pair of shoes. So, head to your local run specialty store to get properly fitted (hot tip: bring your old shoes with you, and your favorite socks for trying on new shoes). If you’re not sure how many miles your old shoes have, start tracking the miles on your new shoes with an app like Strava or logging data in a notebook or Excel spreadsheet.
3/ Overuse Injuries
While walking is beneficial in so many ways, it is a repetitive motion that can cause strain and inflammation on parts of the body, leading to overuse injuries like IT band syndrome, which often presents as pain on the outer edge of the kneecap; shin splints; stress fractures; or strain in the lower back. These can signal muscle imbalances, not enough/lack of stretching, and poor posture. Working with a physical therapist or personal trainer who specializes in walking and running can help strengthen any weaknesses that can cause these types of overuse injuries.
4/ Increased Recovery Time
If it takes longer for you to bounce back from a walk, both physically and in terms of energy, you may be overtraining. Just because the government suggests 150 minutes of moderate activity doesn’t mean you have to go for a handful of long walks to hit that goal. Break your walks up throughout the day. Take shorter or less strenuous walks until your recovery time is shorter, then work your way back up to building endurance or speed.
5/ Decreased Cardiovascular Benefits
When first getting started with a walking program, the body can see aerobic benefits pretty quickly. However, as the body adapts to the new fitness program, those benefits start to decrease. If this happens, changing up the speed, distance, or terrain can help you break through a plateau. Adding hills to your route, or doing short bouts of jogging can help pump up the aerobic benefits.
6/ Poor Form or Posture
Oftentimes, poor posture can indicate fatigue, and that your body needs a break. Good form is an important part of maximizing the benefits of going for a walk. It keeps your airways open and helps avoid injuries. Because walking activates the entire body, keep these tips in mind: Head up, stand up tall, keep your shoulders down and back, engage the core muscles, gently swing the arms alongside the body to help with balance, and roll through your gait from heel to toe.
7/ Reduced Afterburn Effect
Afterburn is when the body’s metabolic rate increases during intense exercise and stays elevated for a period of time after the workout ends, helping the body continue burning more calories when at rest. When walking is new, the afterburn effect can happen, but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and other high-impact workouts are more likely to generate a higher or longer afterburn effect. When you feel ready, adding things like high knees, jumping jacks, or even pushups on a bench during your walk can help fire up that afterburn.
8/ Frequent Colds or Headaches
While regular physical activity can help stave off illness, too much of it can weaken the body and make it difficult to fight off nasty bugs and headaches. Just because walking is a low-intensity, low-impact activity doesn’t mean that your body doesn’t need time to recover. When you’re not feeling well, give your body a break. Whether that’s a rest day spent doing gentle stretching and easy tasks around the house, or a day spent on the sofa, is up to you. When you’re ready to hit the treadmill, pavement, or trails again, take it a little easier rather than jumping right back in where you left off.
9/ No Recovery Days
Incorporating recovery days into your walking plan isn’t reserved for when you’re feeling unwell; it’s just as important even when you’re not sick. It may be tempting to go for long or intense walks every day, but dialing it back with easy days or full rest days is important. The body needs time to recover in order to see gains and avoid injury. Even your shoes need a break!
When walking isn’t fun anymore and feels more like a chore you have to do than a healthy activity you get to do, it’s time to change things up. As tempting as it can be to always walk the same neighborhood loop, a great way to break out of burnout is to explore other neighborhoods or nearby trails. Seek out walking groups in your town, either through the local rec center or even a nearby shoe store. And, again, when walking feels like a drag, give yourself a break. The beauty about walking is that it’s always there for you when you’re ready for it again.
Is Walking Too Much Bad for You?
Cardiovascular activities, like walking, offer a variety of benefits, including weight loss, increased endurance, improved heart health, better mental health, and a boosted immune system. Walking provides many of the same benefits as running, but running burns nearly double the number of calories as walking.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t reap the benefits of walking. As with any new fitness program, it’s important to start slowly and pay attention to how your body feels before advancing to the next level. With walking, that could be picking up the pace, going longer, choosing a more challenging route, or adding in things like a weighted vest or small hand weights to increase strength and calorie burn. When in doubt, consult a medical professional.
Alternate easy and hard days. A harder day should be followed by an easy day or a rest day, giving your body time to recover. Warming up is important, even for walking. The first few minutes of your walk should be easy (think: conversational). Throwing in a few stretches can help you limber up before taking off at a brisk pace or for long walk. Stretching after your walk will help speed up recovery and prevent injuries.
Walking is a great option for people new to exercise and working on getting in shape. It’s also an excellent, complementary exercise to other fitness activities. It may be tempting to increase your step goals, especially early on when you’re seeing a variety of health benefits such as weight loss, better stamina, and even better moods.
But you can experience negative effects of walking too much, so moderation is important to prevent injury and burnout. Paying attention to the symptoms and signs, tackling niggling pains early on, maintaining good posture, wearing good shoes, and balancing active and rest days will help you avoid the downfalls of walking too much.