Treadmill vs. Walk in the Park

Pros and cons.

I joined a health club recently. Wickenburg has an excellent “exercise center” that’s part of the Physical Therapy department at the local hospital. It has weight training equipment, elliptical exercise machines (is that the right name for those things?), stationary bikes, and treadmills. Just about all of it is computerized, so you can set goals and quantify many activities. The place is clean, there’s good music playing at a volume that’s not too loud to override it with iPod earbuds, and there are even televisions with captioning so you can read what’s being said onscreen.

Best of all, the members are an incredible mix of people, from the 20-year-old, skinny as a rail (as I was at that age) to the 40-something-year-old-who has had about five hundred too many cream puffs in her lifetime to the 90-year-old who comes in on a walker. I fit in nicely with this group, since I’m middle aged, overweight but not dangerously obese, and just enough out of shape to have to really work at my exercise regime, which is still in its infancy.

The treadmill is part of that regime — the warmup part. I start with a 20-minute session on the treadmill, using one of its built-in programs and setting the speed to about 3 mph. The programs change the machine’s incline, so I could be walking on flat ground for part of the time and climbing a hill moments later. Not a big hill, mind you. But one that’s enough to get your heart beating, which the machine monitors for you. In fact, if I enter my age and weight into the machine, when it gives me my heart rate, it’ll also tell me whether my work out is for weight loss or cardiovascular. I try to keep it in the cardiovascular range. I want to break a sweat, but not get soaked.

When I first thought about treadmills, I thought they were pretty dumb. After all, why use a machine to go for a walk. Why not just go for a walk? But I realized, after using a treadmill for about a week, that it does have some benefits over just walking. I thought I’d summarize them for people who have never tried one and, like me, wonder why they should.

Treadmill Walk in the Park
You can set a speed and stick with it. You don’t really know how fast you’re walking or whether you’ve changed speed.
You can monitor exact distance, speed, incline, time walked, and calories burned. You can’t easily monitor exact distance, speed, incline, time walked, and calories burned
You can do other things while you walk: watch TV, listen to music or podcasts, read a book or newspaper (a bit tricky), or talk to a companion. There are a limited number of things you can do while you walk: listen to music or podcasts or talk to a companion.
You’re breathing “conditioned” air, which may or may not be of a good quality. You’re breathing “fresh” air, which may or may not be of a good quality.
While you’re walking, there’s nothing to look at but the room you’re in, the view out the window (if you face one), and the people around you. While you’re walking, you can see a wide variety of things as you walk past them.
You can do it in any weather, at any time of the day or night (dependent on access to machine). You can do it in any weather, at any time of the day or night (but you probably will avoid hot, cold, rainy, and dark).
There’s nothing to interrupt you while you’re walking. You can be interrupted by friends and acquaintances you pass along the way, traffic, or obstacles along the trail.


This is all I can think of right now. The conclusion I’ve reached from all this is that a treadmill offers an efficient way to walk for exercise. Efficient is good if you’re pressed for time and want to make the most of every minute. That’s me. Right now I’m walking at 3 mph (average) for 20 minutes as a warm up for other exercise, including weight training. During that time, I can burn about 75 calories (no Hostess Cupcakes in my immediate future) and get my heart rate up to 130+ beats per minute. But if I didn’t want to do weight training and wanted to base my workout around a good, long walk, I could easily choose a more difficult program at a faster speed and for a longer time, I can just push a couple of buttons, pick a good playlist on my iPod, and have at it. Nothing will interrupt me and I’ll get the workout I want.

If you live in Wickenburg and have been considering the hospital’s exercise facilities, I highly recommend it. It’s moderately priced — I paid $300 for 6 months, but that includes the “setup fee” to introduce me to the weight machines (and them to me via programming). A longer membership is cheaper per month; a shorter one costs more. But the way I see it, what’s more important: money or my health? I know I won’t walk or exercise regularly on my own. And I know I don’t walk as fast when I’m out with my walking buddies as I do on that machine. So I’m getting a lot of exercise each 90-minute session at the “health club.”

I must be. I slept 10-1/2 hours straight through last night.

And a side note here: I also started the Atkins/South Beach diet. I know they’re not the same, but they’re close enough for my purposes. I’ve lost 8 pounds in a week. Still very overweight, but starting to get back to the point where I can wear most of my jeans again.

And the way I see it, every pound I lose is one extra pound of passengers I can take flying. With some of my passengers so big they fully extend the seatbelt before fastening it around their midsections, somebody has to lose weight.

3 thoughts on “Treadmill vs. Walk in the Park

  1. That is a pretty good chart of pros and cons. When given a choice I think I prefer an exercycle over the treadmill, much easier to read a book on one of those :-)

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