The Benefits of Walking versus Running

walking legs

At least once a day I discuss the differences of running and walking with a patient. Usually it is because the patient has suffered an injury that is, at the very least, due in part to running.

When the topic of running comes up, I espouse the benefits of walking versus running. Most people don’t want to hear that their running has contributed to their injury and that they might have to give it up or slow down with their running.

Those who run can be as devoted to their running as some are about their religions. And for some who run, running can become almost like a religion.

Walking may not attract the fan base that running does. But there are just as many out there walking as there are running.

I used to run, and did run for many years. I once ran a marathon. I will never run again. I didn’t have to stop because of an injury. I knew that if I didn’t stop, then running would eventually cause an injury that I would not be able to recover from and would force me to stop running. I wanted to stop running while I still could run. I didn’t want to be forced to stop because of an injury and then not be able to run again.

If you want to lose weight, then running is the best way, hands down. You will certainly burn more calories running than you will walking, minute for minute. If you run for 1 minute, you will burn more calories than you would if you were to walk for 1 minute.

The issue that I have with running is that it is very high impact. The impact causes so much damage  that most people can’t do it long term without getting injured from it. If you can’t consistently do an exercise long term, then you won’t get any gain or benefit from it.

Most people would lose more weight starting a running regimen than they would with starting a walking regimen. If you can stick with a running regimen without hurting yourself, you will be fine and will be able to control your weight through the cardio-vascular activity of running.

Most people will only be able to stick with a running regimen for a short period of time before they hurt themselves and have to stop. However, there are people who can run for many years and not hurt themselves. I have seen many people who have run through college and for years afterwards.

Many long time runners will injure themselves when they start working consistently in front of a computer or at a desk. Running and sitting at a desk are a great recipe for low back, hip, leg, knee, and ankle injuries and pain. Sitting causes certain muscles to tighten up that are further tightened up from the motion and impact of running. The muscles that get irritated from these activities are the same ones that can cause low back, hip, leg, knee and ankle pain. Running and sitting irritate the same muscles.

Sitting all day is extremely hard on your body. The less you sit, the better off you will be. The less you sit, literally, the longer you will live. The less you sit, the better your quality of life will be.

It is ironic that most people who start a new running routine will have to stop it due to injury before they can really lose any weight from running.

I feel that if you look at the long term effects of walking versus running, walking is healthier for you. Since it is low impact, you can do it consistently for many years. Those are many years that you can be burning calories, instead of being sidelined on and off from an injury from running.

The on and off, up and down, that most people experience with exercise is preventable. You just have to pick an exercise that is easy on your body, low impact, and that you enjoy doing. If it is low impact and easy on your body, then you will be able to do that exercise for years to come. The main benefits from exercise come from doing it consistently for years. For most people, running will promote the up and down roller coaster ride with exercise that can come from repeatedly injuring oneself.

You can’t expect the effects of exercising for a few months to last a lifetime. That is why you can’t expect a few months to even a few years of running to control your weight indefinitely. If you want to control your weight long term, then set up healthy habits and patterns that you can maintain and stick with for years.

You can’t maintain eating a cabbage soup diet for years. You can’t eat grapefruit for years. You can’t avoid all carbohydrates for years. And most of us can’t maintain running for years, just as most of us won’t be able to consistently do P-90X or Cross Fit exercise routines. These exercise routines are just too hard on your body. Unless you are in good shape to begin with, these exercise systems can create a lot of injury.

There are some of you out there whose bodies are built for running. For whatever reason their bodies are designed just a little differently than ours are and they are built for running. I feel that if you weigh over 150 pounds then you are too heavy to run. But there are always exceptions. For most of us though, running without injury for many years is the exception, not the rule.

Recently a few studies have come out comparing walking versus running.  One study was published last month in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise titled “Greater Weight Loss from Running Than Walking”. In the study the researchers concluded that running burns calories every time. Even when the energy expenditure of running was approximated by walking (researchers had the walkers walk for as many minutes as it would take to burn the same calories from running), the runners were still thinner, had lower waist circumference and a lower body mass index.

Another smaller study published last year in the journal Obesity, showed that running can actually reduce your appetite. I think this is due to your stomach sloshing around while you run and it needs some time to calm down before eating. I have commonly heard of runners getting “slosh stomach,” meaning that the runners stomachs can get upset during and after running from all of the jostling.

I don’t doubt that running burns more calories that walking does. But how does running make you feel over the years? I am concerned with feeling good and reducing pain. If you run for a long time, over many years, chances are that you’ll end up getting osteo-arthritis in your joints-specifically your ankles, knees, hips or low back. All of the impact is too hard on your body long term.

If you are a hard core runner, have to run, can’t stop running, and love to run, then there are ways to manage the injuries associated with running. The more you stretch the looser and less injury prone your muscles will be. The stronger you keep your core muscles and leg muscles and small, intrinsic, balancing muscles in your ankles and feet, the more likely your muscles will be able to deal with the stress of running. Also try to run on soft surfaces such as a track, gravel trail, dirt trail. Avoid running on cement. Cement has no give to it and therefore translates more impact into your joints as they act as shock absorbers for your body.

A current trend with running is the barefoot running trend. I like walking in bare feet. I have a few of the bare foot shoes. I have worked on many runners who love the bare foot shoes. It is supposed to be a more natural style of running that is easier on your body.

The hallmark of running bare foot is to land on your fore foot. It is postulated that landing on your fore foot will cause you to use your calves and feet as shock absorbers. This will reduce impact and stress on the rest of your body, and allow you to run more efficiently. The more efficient someone runs, the less oxygen they will require to run.

A study published last month in The Journal of Applied Physiology looked at what is more physiologically efficient, landing on the front of your foot when you run versus landing on your heel when you run.

The study concluded that heel striking was by far the more physiologically economical running style. Heel strikers used less oxygen to run at the same pace as the fore foot strikers. As a side note, many of the fore foot strikers used less oxygen to run when they switched to a heel strike style of running.

Allison Gruber, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, led the study. Gruber also noted that fore foot striking versus heel striking also altered how the runners burned through fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Gruber said “these results tell us that people will hit the wall faster if they are running with a fore foot pattern versus a rear foot pattern.”

Another study out of Brigham Young University looked at whether bare foot running makes you less likely to be injured because, it is claimed, that running with the bare foot shoes will cause the small, intrinsic muscles of the foot to become stronger and tougher and therefore less likely to become injured. They found no difference in injury with running barefoot versus running in traditional shoes.

Running can be a great cardio-vascular exercise. As long as you have the right body type, are in shape, and manage your body with stretching and weight lifting, you will be able to run for exercise. The issue is whether you can keep doing it consistently or will you get injured from it and have to stop exercising altogether to allow things to heal.

Walking is much easier on your body and much easier to maintain long term. You don’t have to exercise hard core every time. You don’t ever have to exercise hard and push yourself to your limits. All you have to do to feel good and get into better shape is to move and exercise, consistently. That is the Pain Free Way.

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