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12/6/2019


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  • Walk or Run?

    By: Joann Bally CSCS

    In the 70's, running was fitness. For various reasons, running declined in popularity somewhat. Then, in the 90's, partially due to a study that showed fitness could be improved with moderate exercise, large numbers of people started walking for fitness. Now, there is something of a face-off between walkers and runners. Walkers think runners are some kind of nuts intent on ruining their knees, and runners think walkers are wimps who are afraid of a little sweat. They're both wrong.

    Measure the effectiveness of your workout

    First, let's consider how to measure your workout. A common way to measure the effectiveness of a cardio workout is calories expended. Time alone is not a good criterion of how much work you have done. If you walk at a 20 min/mile pace for 30 minutes, you will cover 1-1/2 miles. If your pace is 15 min/mile, you will cover 2 miles. And if you run at 10 min/mile, you will cover 3 miles. As calorie expenditure is determined by miles covered, it is clear that a recommendation to exercise for 30 minutes does not tell enough. It is also clear that running is a more time-efficient way of burning those calories. Score 1 for running.

    Then, there is the question of impact. There is no question that running is harder on your joints than walking. Although walking injuries are not unheard of, running injuries are far more common. If you can run without major problems, great. But if you have a bad knee(s), running may be out for you. Score 1 for walking.

    With equivalent caloric expenditure, walking and running can be equally beneficial for improving your cardiovascular system, preventing or treating chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, and controlling your weight. However, running is more effective for increasing cardiovascular fitness, that is, aerobic capacity or ability to process oxygen. This requires exercising in a "target heart rate" range, typically 65-85% of maximum (estimated by 220 minus your age). If you are in fairly good shape, you may not be able to walk fast enough to get to your target. You can remedy that by walking uphill or learning Olympic racewalking technique, but with running it's just easier to go faster. Nod to running.

    On the other hand, people with a low fitness level may not be able to run at all--they get winded after a block or so. If you are overweight or out-of-shape, you are better off walking than subjecting yourself to the discomfort and frustration of trying to run. First, move to walking briskly, rather than strolling at window-shopping pace. You can get into running later, if you want, after you've worked yourself into better shape. Walking gets the edge here, for much of the population.

    Getting the most from your workout

    To get the health benefits, you just have to walk farther or more frequently than if you were running. Fitness benefits are greater from running, but the health benefits are sufficient for most people's goals. So it looks like running vs. walking is a draw. If you run and the knee starts to bother you, try some walking intervals or days. If you're a fitness walker, you might try jogging short distances for variety. And don't forget to smile and say hi to each other.


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