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Walking vs Running: Which is better?

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    Years ago, there may not have been much of a debate in fitness circles if you tried to compare the running and walking. After all, running is a vigorous physical activity that gets your heart pounding, your lungs expanding and your body sweating.

    Walking? Well, walking is just ... walking, right? Technically speaking, it was viewed as a physical activity, but with a reputation for being undemanding, so its health benefits were suspicious, at best.

    Fast forward a few years and here we are. People will certainly have their preferences, and science has ruled in favor of both walking and running for your health. But which is better for you? That depends who you are and what you’re capable of consistently doing.

    Benefits of walking

    It may not seem so, but the everyday process of putting one foot in front of another as part of the simple act of walking can yield a multitude of health benefits—both in the short and long term. This is because a couple important things are happening when you walk.

    The benefits include:

    • Improving high blood pressure

    • Decreasing body mass index

    • Lowering the risk of diabetes

    • Lowering the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease

    • Reducing all-cause mortality

    • Promoting an improved mental state

    When your heart and lungs are operating at more efficient levels, your overall health begins to improve. However, it’s worth pointing out that real progress comes over time. A few long walks here and there won’t produce much in the way of health benefits. By establishing a routine that you can return to, you can begin to feel better and set yourself up for a range of positive health outcomes in the years ahead.

    Benefits of running

    Running may be what comes to mind when people think of exercise and cardiovascular health. Before gyms and high-tech fitness centers, there was the path, the track, the sidewalk and the open road. Given the activity’s simplicity, it didn’t take much to get started.

    Today, the health benefits of running (and jogging) are clearer and more compelling than ever. Running for as little as 10 minutes a day can markedly reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and improve your resting heart rate. But the benefits don’t end there, as running can also induce better, deeper sleep cycles, promote the release of endorphins, lower your risk of arthritis, improve your memory and strengthen muscles.

    Walking vs. Running: Which is better for weight loss?

    While long-term health benefits are appealing, many people looking into walking and running are also interested in obtaining benefits in the here and now, namely weight loss. The good news is that both running and walking could impact weight loss.

    Walking for weight loss

    For years, walking was not typically seen as an activity that promoted significant weight loss. Within the physical fitness community, it was generally thought that to lose weight, you needed to move fast and sweat. Science, however, usually has the last word, and it turns out that weight loss is possible when walking, as long as the walking is done for a few thousand steps at a time at a moderate-intensity level.

    Because walking is considered a low-impact cardio-aerobic activity, it helps to burn calories. And as we’ve all been taught, if you can burn more calories than you take in, weight loss will be the result. While results may vary from individual to individual, one study showed that it’s possible to burn up to 100 calories per hour when briskly walking.

    Running for weight loss

    According to some estimates, at least 64 million Americans have gone on a run at least once in the past year. That goes to show running has been associated with weight loss, and the science backs up the common perception. Because you are moving your body at a fast rate when running, you are burning calories.

    As for your running routine, there are many opinions on the matter, and you should always consult with your physician before beginning an intense regimen of regular running. Besides speaking with your doctor, there are few other things you’ll want to consider, including:

    • Frequency of activity: Running 3 to 4 times per week is a good place to start, as it’s enough to register some gains while still giving you ample time to recover.

    • Warming up: While there is some debate on the value of stretching, many trainers still contend it’s important in helping to make your muscles more pliable in advance of strenuous activities like running. Dynamic stretching before embarking on a run can help prepare your joints, muscles and tendons for the activity ahead.

    • Recovery and cool down: A high-intensity activity should be punctuated with a low-intensity one. Try walking slowly for five minutes to recover, gradually decreasing your pace as you go.

    Which should you choose: running or walking?

    Now that you have an overview of running vs. walking, it’s time for you to think about which activity is right for you. Several factors should be taken into consideration when selecting either walking or running as your preferred activity to stay in shape, improve your health and lose weight.

    Here are some worthwhile considerations:

    • Your age: Younger individuals might prefer the higher burn rate that comes with running while older folks might want to go a little more gently on their body and choose walking. It’s a personal decision and one that should be discussed with your primary care physician.

    • Your current physical shape: Are you already in decent physical shape? Are you prepared for the demands of a 3x week running routine? If so, the benefits of running can be alluring. However, many people ruminating on a new cardio regimen will want to go more slowly and ease into a new physical activity. That’s where walking has the advantage. It’s a low-impact activity that anyone can do. If you’re currently mostly sedentary but find yourself intrigued by the challenges of running, you can always graduate to that after mastering moderate-intensity walking.

    • Your discipline level: In many respects, the right activity—walking or running—is the one you will enjoy and do repeatedly. Ask yourself if waking up early before work and running for 30 minutes is something you can see yourself doing on a regular basis. If not, it may be more practical for you to consider walking.

    Bottom line

    It’s important to understand that both walking and running can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Either exercise can yield positive short-term and long-term outcomes when performed consistently over an extended period of time. The activities have the potential to lower your risk of diabetes, reduce cholesterol levels and bring down blood pressure.

    Unfortunately, it’s not easy to say definitively if running is better than walking, or vice versa. While walking may be good for anyone capable, you have to know your body, consult a doctor and be ready to have discipline when deciding between the two.

    The exercise information provided in this article is for educational and entertainment purposes only and is not to be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific treatment plan or course of action.

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