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I enjoy going for long -- I mean, ten mile -- walks. Part of this is because I was training for the Susan B. Komen 3-Day Walk about a year ago, and I got into the habit of taking very long walks because of it.

However, some of my friends insist that I should start running, now that I've been walking on and off for a year. I hear all sorts of conflicting information about walking vs. running, so I figured I'd just ask here.

Assuming distance is constant (that is, that I'd walk or run, say, five or ten miles, regardless) and that time is not a factor (if it takes me two hours or four doesn't really matter to me), how do walking and running compare? That is, what are the pros and cons, health-and-fitness-wise, of walking vs. running?

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If I were you, I would ask for some scientific evidence that running is better than walking, rather than relying on the opinions below. –  michael Sep 2 '11 at 14:02
    
I agreed with Michael, so I added my own answer. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 2 '11 at 14:55
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I came across this article today on calories burned when walking versus running the same distance. The important points are that you burn 5 calories for every liter of oxygen you consume while exercising, and running requires you to take in more oxygen because it increases your heart rate more. That is, although you're moving the same amount of weight over the same distance whether you walk or run, when you run you

actually jump from one foot to the other. Each jump raises our center of gravity when we take off, and lowers it when we land, since we bend the knee to absorb the shock. This continual rise and fall of our weight requires a tremendous amount of Newtonian force (fighting gravity) on both takeoff and landing.

As such, running generally burns more calories than walking. However, the author also did an experiment to see whether this holds true at higher speeds, and found that (at least for her personally) at speeds faster than 12 minutes a mile, walking actually burned more calories than running. I'm not quite sure why that is, but the explanation she gives is

walking at very fast speeds forces your body to move in ways it wasn't designed to move. This creates a great deal of internal "friction" and inefficiency, which boosts heart rate, oxygen consumption, and calorie burn.

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"Walking at very fast speeds forces your body to move in ways it wasn't designed to move" -- this is only true if you don't know how to walk properly. See my answer here. If you maintain good form, it is very efficient, and fast, and not bad for you in the slightest. –  Muhd Apr 21 '12 at 2:26
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Running is harder on your body that walking. This is a pro. It can also, if not addressed correctly, turn into a con.

Running will push your muscles, tendons, joints, lungs and heart more than walking will. When you run, your feet will hit the ground harder, your muscles will contract faster and with more force, your lungs will need to supply more air, and your heart will need to distribute blood faster.

Basically, your entire body will be working harder - which is a good thing! It will force your body to adapt and improve to meet the new challenge.

However, if you've never run before, or haven't run in a long time, there is a danger of overdoing things, especially if you 'jump in the deep end.' Start off slow - maybe 1 mile at a time at an easy pace, and see how it feels. Don't just try to run 3 miles a day during the first week - your body won't be ready for such a drastic change.

Make sure you have good shoes, make sure your technique is decent. Otherwise overuse injuries will inevitably happen. If you ever have pain that is not normal soreness, take a break. Don't try to fight an injury - this is counterproductive.

Overall, I would say running is a great and logical next step after walking. Like I mentioned before, it will improve the fitness of all the parts of your body, more than walking will. BUT, remember to be smart about it, and listen to your body. Ease into it, and you'll be fine.

Good luck!

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The Old Science: "Walking Is Enough"

Let's frame the health question with some data from the American Heart Association:

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the 5 major risk factors (along with high blood pressure, abnormal values for blood lipids, smoking, and obesity) for cardiovascular disease.

The American Heart Association used to say (and the government agreed) that virtually anything would satisfy the bare minimum for avoiding that "sedentary lifestyle":

[The benefits of exercise] will generally occur by engaging in at least 30 minutes of modest activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Modest activity is defined as any activity that is similar in intensity to brisk walking at a rate of about 3 to 4 miles per hour.

That 30 minutes was even considered cumulative across the day:

It has been shown that repeated intermittent or shorter bouts of activity (such as 10 minutes) that include occupational and recreational activity or the tasks of daily living have similar cardiovascular and other health benefits if performed at the moderate intensity level with an accumulated duration of at least 30 minutes per day.

It's relevant to note:

People who already meet these standards will receive additional benefits from more vigorous activity.

The CDC breaks down the "more vigorous activity" required to achieve those "additional benefits":

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) each week of vigrous-intensity aerobic activity
  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.

The Corrected Science: "Walking Is Almost Never Enough"

The recommendation above "has been revised by the scientists who first developed" it!

The old advice was adopted by the World Health Organization and the US and UK governments. Now it appears that while it was technically correct, it failed as policy.

Until now, government recommendations have suggested that people can achieve a minimum level of fitness through their normal daily routines. But amid fears that the lightest of activities such as dusting and the stroll to the car are being counted as exercise, a new study by the public health experts behind the formula concludes adults need to add jogging and twice-weekly weight training sessions if they want to cut their risk of heart disease and obesity.

Source: The Guardian, specifically Polly Curtis, health correspondent, on 17 August 2007.

Why did it fail as policy? Because, as the BBC shows, people thought that what they were doing was plenty exercise. Surprise! It wasn't:

In a survey of nearly 1,200 people, around half of men and three quarters of women thought moderate exercise conferred the greatest health benefits.

...

"It's extremely worrying that British adults now believe that a brief stroll and a bit of gardening is enough to make them fit and healthy," said Dr Gary O'Donovan, lead author.

"Brisk walking offers some health benefits, but jogging, running and other vigorous activities offer maximal protection from disease."

Conclusion: Walking OK - Running and Lifting Awesome

  • Walking at a moderate or slow pace won't help one whit.
  • Walking briskly for a good while every day will provide the bare minimum of recommended activity.
  • Doing more will get the good stuff. Jogging, playing sports, and lifting heavy things will provide the health benefits we're after: increased mood and energy, avoiding heart disease and osteoporosis.

One reason we misunderstand scientists is that we only listen to half of what they say. The studies show that brisk walking provides the minimum necessary exercise if done for 150 minutes a week, and again, that is minimum time. Interpreting that to say that moderate walking 2 or 3 times a week for 20 minutes is enough is factually incorrect. We misunderstand scientists because they are using very particular language, and people normally use vague language. In this case, the scientists are trying to be more clear: the bare minimum is the bare minimum, and for any real health benefits, we'd all better get to work.

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I don't disagree with your comments, however I sincerely doubt a ten-mile walk constitutes "moderate" activity. Can you add anything addressing my specific question? –  Aarthi Sep 12 '11 at 17:06
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Not clear on how you think this doesn't address it. Do you think your 10-mile walk is more or less than moderate activity? Remember that we're talking about intensity, not duration. Either way, I'm not clear as to what's not applicable to your situation. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 13 '11 at 22:59
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It should be pointed out that excessive aerobic exercise may likely be bad for one's health. See this blog post by Dr. Kurt Harris (and note that SAD stands for Standard American Diet). Among other things he talks about studies which show that marathon runners are more than 3 times more likely to have a heart attack than someone with a sedentary lifestyle. –  Muhd Apr 22 '12 at 20:15
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@Muhd Absolutely, though I think that the OP is nowhere near excessively problematic levels of any kind of exercise. –  Dave Liepmann Apr 22 '12 at 21:34
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I agree with parkker007, but would like to add that when running you should ideally try to run on grass/ soft ground rather than concrete because otherwise (long term) it messes up your knees and hips etc. (To my knowledge, walking on concrete is fine, so if you live somewhere with no grass.. walk to grass and then run?!)

Also, go for an easy five-minute-odd jog before you start stretching, then do some dynamic stretches BEFORE you go on your "run", and then afterwards, go on a five-minute-odd warm-down jog and stretch again (this time, static stretching is OK--see Thomas Kurz), and if your legs still really hurt afterwards, run some very cold water in the bath and sit in it for five minutes.

Keep the pace steady to build up fitness or do fartlek training ( http://www.virginlondonmarathon.com/training-centre/training-advice/fartlek-training/ ) to build up stamina. Drink lots of water afterwards, and taking a bottle of orange squash or something with you (with a pinch of salt- sounds disgusting but you can't taste it) is a good idea.

Above-linked-to London Marathon site is tres very useful, if you're curious about anything else :)

Also may I say good for you going on such long walks/ considering running :)

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Let's look at this from a sustainability standpoint.

  • I think we can assume you really like walking if you are walking 10 miles. There are not many people who enjoy running ten miles.
  • Runners get injured a lot. (1992 Nov;14(5):320-35.Running injuries. A review of the epidemiological literature.) Walkers don't.
  • Running requires a more extensive wardrobe than walking.
  • Although increasing speed increases cardiovascular endurance, speed does not affect improvements in blood lipid profile (JAMA. 1991;266(23):3295-3299. doi: 10.1001/jama.1991.03470230053030).
  • If you run 10 miles, you will probably find it hard to do anything else the rest of the day. Walking 10 miles will leave you will more energy.

If it isn't broken, why fix it?

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Running requires a more extensive wardrobe than walking? Perhaps technically yes, but running requires one pair of shorts, a shirt of some kind, and shoes. It's one of the least equipment-heavy sports around! –  Eyal Jul 19 '12 at 11:49
    
@Eyal It's relative. Compared to running, soccer only requires cleats and a ball. Compared to soccer, american football only requires pads and a helmet. Compared to football, etc. Walking requires nothing that the OP does not already have. –  michael Jul 19 '12 at 13:37
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I would choose whichever I see myself doing more consistently. If I'm going to be defeated running, by all means walk.

And now I'm going to put in my two cents of what you should be doing... swimming! Swimming is low impact, burns calories like it's nobody's business, and makes you look oh-so-cool when you're kicking it at the lake with your friends. Your joints and body will thank you. Swimming will also work your abs.

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Why wouldn't someone become a consistent runner over time and hence be "defeated" by it? Alternatives are fine, but this doesn't answer what are the pros and cons of walking versus running. –  Matt Chan Jul 18 '12 at 15:02
    
Matt, I don't understand your first sentence because it is improperly worded. If I'm going to feel defeated and give up on running - I'll choose to walk. –  siouxfan45 Jul 18 '12 at 22:09
    
You're right. Sorry. It made more sense in my head before I typed it it out. I meant to ask why someone would be (or feel) defeated by running if that person could overcome that hurdle of practicing it more and more and adapting to it. What I was trying to get at it is why someone would feel or be (your answer and comment say two different thing) defeated by running. –  Matt Chan Jul 19 '12 at 3:37
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