Walking and running are two of the most popular forms of exercise for all age groups in Ireland. Both are relatively easy to perform, benefit your health in many ways, and are free. For most able-bodied people, walking is the simplest form of exercise. It’s also a powerful weapon against obesity, hypertension, and depression. According to Sport Ireland, walking is the most popular form of exercise for the over 35s. Running is the most popular non gym-related sport overall.
Running is quite a technical exercise. Many office-based workers have lost the ability to run effectively (effective in this case means to help reduce injury and maximise health benefits). But once the required skills are mastered or relearned, running is a healthy way to get fit and lose weight.
Walking is a gentler form of exercise that needs no skills. We learn to walk before we can run, as they say. And we probably don’t realise just how important it is to walk regularly. Our bodies demand it.
But which form of exercise is the “best”? Let’s see if there’s a clear winner.
Our bodies are designed for walking. If you believe in evolution, you’ll know that we moved from running around on all fours and swinging from trees to moving around on our two feet. We are bipedal animals and our bodies want us to walk. But our dependency on cars and the epidemic of sitting are making us sick. Yet we can improve our situation with one simple trick. Stand up and walk! Yes, it’s that easy. You don’t need special equipment apart from comfortable shoes.
Sadly, there are no prizes for walking (unless you’re an Olympian). But your body will thank you for it, your health will improve, and you’ll feel good.
The Health Benefits of Walking
- Live longer. Studies have shown that walking for a short period every day can prolong your life.
- Walking helps reduce hypertension and cholesterol and reduce the chances of stroke. In fact, people that take cholesterol-lowering medication can reduce the dosage considerably reduce the dosage considerably if they walk regularly for longer each week.
- Walking is low impact. As we’ll see later, low impact exercise can be both a good and bad thing. Low impact exercises are great for people with injuries, arthritis, or joint pain. High impact can help strengthen bones and muscle.
- Going for a walk can help reduce stress and can even be an antidote to mild depression. If your mood is down, try a brisk walk to clear the grey clouds. It can be very effective.
Humans are capable of running at high speeds and for very long distances (although not generally at the same time). Our bodies adapt quickly to run training and it’s a form of exercise we do naturally from a very early age.
The Health Benefits of Running
- Strengthens muscles. The force of gravity and the impact of your feet hitting the ground on every stride forces your muscles to adapt and strengthen. To improve the strength and power of your running muscles try hitting the hills every now and again for the added challenge.
- Has the potential for high calorie and fat burning. Running is more intense than walking and therefore has the potential to burn calories and fat faster. In fact, running for half an hour will burn twice as many calories as walking for the same period. Running is on a par with cycling as an efficient fat and calorie burning exercise.
- Improves cardiovascular fitness levels. The statistics speak for themselves. Non-Runners are almost twice as likely to die from heart disease than runners. Running is great for your heart.
- Running gives you an endorphin rush. Heard of runner’s high? This is the buzz you feel when you’ve entered the “zone” during a run. The high comes from the release of chemicals that alter mood into the bloodstream during exercise. The process uses the same metabolic pathways as drugs such as marijuana. Runner’s high is generally enjoyed by experienced runners.
- Running helps strengthen your bones, especially those of the lower body, by stresses the bones as you make contact with the ground. Your body responds to these stresses by demanding more nutrients to help build stronger bones. This is particularly important for older people as our bones lose minerals and become weaker as we get older.
Running vs Walking
Running offers more health benefits than walking if we take time constraints into consideration (running = faster results). The problem is that running is a riskier form of exercise. There are significantly more cases of injury from running than walking.
Of course, injuries arise from imperfect technique, so it’s not quite the act of running that’s at fault.
Over-training is another problem with running. It’s possible to overtrain from walking but it’s less likely.
The impact on the joints from running is another factor to consider. High-impact can cause pain and injury. But running will strengthen your bones thanks to their adaptation to exercise. Bones are, in fact, living tissue and become stronger with overload. One of the most common problems with osteoporosis patients is the loss of calcium from the bones due to lack of weight-bearing exercise.
When you run, your leg bones absorb the impact of your entire body. Over time, these bones respond by thickening and strengthening. Swimmers and cyclists often suffer from the same bone mineral density issues as runners and should add an impact exercise and weight training into their program.
Walking does not offer the same bone strengthening benefits as running but helps reduce back pain and will strengthen the muscles in your legs, hips and feet.
Walking is easy to do. There is no simpler exercise than walking. You can fit in a walk on your lunch break, after work, instead of taking the car to the shops, and in many other situations without too much preparation. Ideally, you’d want to walk longer distances in walking or running shoes, but any comfortable footwear will do. That’s it, no other equipment required.
Running is still an easy exercise to do, but only run while wearing specialized footwear (running shoes – not basketball sneakers or hiking shoes). Wearing comfortable clothing, preferably not office clothes or jeans, is also a good idea.
Intensity vs Moderation
We live in a world of hyperintensity. Gyms call out for “the burn” and “no pain, no gain”. Work demands a lot of our bodies and the other stresses in life such as environmental pollution and bad food cause inflammation.
Many people don’t realise that intense exercise can also cause inflammation. Sometimes low intensity is more beneficial. In fact, walking can often be better for you than a spin class or heavy weights session. That’s because your body’s response to walking will not be to increase inflammation. Running, although it offers a faster path to is a more intense form of exercise and can lead people into a dangerous area of overtraining and inflammation.
Can you lose weight by walking or running for 30 minutes a day?
Weight loss from exercise is a complex subject and not something that can be fully explained here. However, any form of exercise can help lose weight if you balance the exercise with calorie intake. When you exert yourself enough to put your heart rate at around 60% of your maximum, you’ll enter what’s called the “fat burning zone”.
The key is to maintain this heart rate level for the best results.
Because exercising at a high intensity will prevent your body from burning fat as a primary fuel source. Many people run at too fast a pace to get the maximum fat-burning benefits. Walking, on the other hand, requires a fast pace to get into the fat burning zone.
The thing to remember is that any form of exercise will help you lose weight, so get out and move and don’t worry too much about your pace. Try to walk for at least 30 minutes if weight loss is a primary goal.
How to Walk for Health
Try fast walking for more results. Raise your heart rate to the fat-burning zone level by doing some brisk walking. At this level, your body uses fat calories to fuel your exercise. Brisk walking means different things to different people, but it’s generally the intensity level where you begin to sweat and breathe harder. It doesn’t mean you can’t speak due to sheer exertion – that’s a step too far.
How to Run Better for Health
If you’re concerned with fat loss, try to reduce intensity levels so that your workout intensity level falls into the fat-burning zone, as described above.
High-intensity running is great for the competitive souls among us and is necessary for competitions. But high levels of intensity can also be detrimental to your overall health in the long run. If you’re not competing or don’t have a particular reason to go full throttle on your run, scale the intensity back. The health benefits of running 90% are minimal compared to running at 70%. Your knees, feet, and lungs will thank you.
Try to make meditation a part of your runs. We’re not recommending that you switch off completely (especially if you’re a road or city runner) but incorporating some mindfulness into your running will benefit your mental health. Exercise should make us happy. Our bodies are designed to exercise regularly and the more we become aware of the sensation of running, the more it will help us relax and enjoy running time.
Muscles atrophy if they do not receive overload and calories. If you want to get good muscle tone from running it’s important to challenge yourself and fuel yourself correctly. Many obsessive runners do not eat enough calories to fuel their muscles and do not practise overloading. Overload is when a muscle is put under greater pressure than it’s used to. And that means running up hills, running while carrying something, or interval training. Running at a constant pace will train your muscles to become efficient at that pace and no increase in strength or size will occur.
So Which is Better? Running or walking?
The answer comes down to each individual’s goals. Running isn’t suitable for everyone but almost all able-bodied people should be able to get 30 minutes of walking into their day.
Despite the increased risk of injury, running & jogging are better for your health than walking. For weight loss, bone density improvements, hypertension reduction, and strength increases, running wins the race. If you’ve got 30 minutes to spare and have your running shoes handy and a shower within reach, run for “faster” health benefits.
In Ireland, the only factor that could stop you walking or running every day is the weather. But there’s still no excuse for moving on the two feet your body was designed to use. At the very least, get out and walk, despite the weather. That’s why we invented rain gear.