Four reasons to walk – not run

December 30, 2014 Providence Health Team

Walk - don't run!Walking or running – which is better? Walking is at least as healthy as running, if not more so. Both offer similar health benefits like improving your aerobic fitness, lowering the risk of ailments and disease, and boosting your mood. 

But, if you’re just not into running, relax. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and may even have adverse effects on your health. These four factors will convince you that you’re doing the right thing by walking – instead of running. 

1. Improves long-term health 

Overall health. Running expends about double the energy as walking. So, you might assume it’s more healthful. But, the results from a six-year National Runners’ and Walkers’ Health Study proved otherwise. 

Participants in the study ranged from 18 to 80, but were mostly in their 40s and 50s. Surprisingly, the moderate-intensity walkers edged out the runners when it came to warding off hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease (when expending the same amount of energy during workouts). 

Heart health. Researchers have learned that running can elevate proteins in the heart called troponins, which stress and ultimately damage the heart muscle. While evaluating long-distance runners, they discovered a significant number of cases of myocardial necrosis (irreversible damage to heart muscle cells). 

Brisk walking doesn’t increase protein levels or unduly tax your heart, so you only reap the healthy benefits of your workout. Keep it up and you’ll be walking tall well into your later years. 

2. Burns fat 

Walking burns a higher percentage of body fat than running. If you walked briskly for 20 minutes, 65 percent of the calories burned would be from fat versus 40 percent if you ran. 

Lower-intensity walking targets fat reserves as the primary fuel source over carbohydrates or protein (main fuel sources for higher-intensity running). Keep in mind that you’ll need to maintain a fairly quick pace and walk about 50 percent further – or double the time – for maximum benefits. 

Also, running burns muscle tissue – which can depress your immune system. Long distance runners, especially, are more likely to develop colds and certain infections than power walkers. 

3. Lowers osteoarthritis risk

Low-impact walking is one of the safest forms of exercise. It’s much gentler on your joints than running, so you’re less likely to suffer from osteoarthritis. Runners typically sustain injuries that make them more susceptible to developing the joint disease, especially in their knees, hips and spine. 

 When you run, each step produces a force of two to three times your body weight, which can result in back and lower body stress injuries. And, problems exacerbate if you’re overweight, don’t use correct form or are prone to injuries. 

 Over time, your joints lose lubricating glycoproteins and cartilage wears down. And, your bones can sustain micro-fractures from the stress of pounding the pavement. So take care of your joints now, and you’ll be walking injury-free for years to come. 

4. You’ll do it 

Walking is easy, cheap, effective and even enjoyable (especially if you live in a pretty setting). And, unless you’re a cross-country superstar and think running is fun, you’re far more likely to get off the couch for a walk than a run. 

Running takes preparation – the right shoes, the right layers and the right mindset. But, slip into a comfortable pair of shoes, throw on a jacket and you’re ready to hit your local trail (or neighborhood sidewalk) for an uplifting, healthful walk – before you have time to talk yourself out of it! 

Is walking better than running?How much should you walk? 

Distance. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 7,500 to 10,000 steps a day (about 3.5 to 5 miles) – a reasonable and attainable goal. Wearing a pedometer is an easy way to track it. You can reach your daily step count by walking around the office (or during a lunch break), cleaning your house and running errands in town. 

Duration. Consistency is key. To get in better shape and improve your health, dedicate 30 to 60 minutes, five days a week, to walking. Three 10-minute walks a day is as effective at lowering blood pressure as a single 30-minute walk. 

Challenge yourself and break a good sweat. And, add in some hills or incline on the treadmill. You’ll strengthen your legs, tighten your tush and boost your energy – all while burning off those pesky pounds. 

Speed. Depending on your current fitness level and advice from your provider, a good walking pace is 3 to 4 mph, or between 3,000 and 4,000 steps in 30 minutes. Try to keep your heart rate at 70 percent of the maximum for aerobic training. 

While running can be fine for some people, walking is good for everyone. So, if you have the time, want to avoid injury or just seriously dislike running, choose walking – instead of running. 

To learn more, read our blog post about the benefits of walking for exercise.

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