Walking and running are the two most natural forms of exercise for all able-bodied people. Think about it, we have two legs for a reason. Our early nomadic ancestors walked the land barefoot for miles hunting and gathering. The human body was literally designed for movement, our survival depended on it. Our lifestyles have changed quite a bit from those early days of chasing the herds and sleeping under the stars. Many of us are confined to desk jobs where we sit all day staring at our laptops’ screens. In fact, the average American sits for at least 10 hours each day. Research has shown that sitting for longer than 30 minutes decreases our metabolism by 90 percent. Yikes! In case you may not know, your metabolism is what is responsible for burning off the calories you consume. The slower your metabolism, the fewer calories you’ll burn and the more fat you’ll store.
How can you raise your metabolism? To raise your metabolism, you must exercise. Think of your metabolism like a campfire, you must constantly keep it going. When you let it idle for too long (as in sitting 10 hours a day), it starts to wane until it is no longer burning. Your metabolism needs to be stimulated to keep burning. When we exercise, we are keeping our metabolisms stimulated and burning calories all day long. Our nomadic ancestors likely had no problem keeping their metabolism in check. Their days were spent walking, hunting on grassy plains and running away from predators. Today we no longer need to roam the land for survival. We’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out alternatives to finding food. What we don’t have an alternative for is exercise. Thousands of years later, walking and running are still our most basic forms of movement.
Why Cardio Is Good for You
Walking and running are both forms of cardiovascular (or cardio) exercise. Cardio exercise is any kind of activity that increases your heart rate and oxygen levels in your blood. Cardio has many health benefits, including raising metabolism and burning calories. But the benefits of cardio go beyond helping us work off guilty food pleasures. Regular cardio exercise has been linked to longer life, fewer sick days, and reduced risk of diseases. Exercising just two to eight hours a week can decrease your chance of premature death by up to 36 percent. This is likely because exercise, especially cardio exercises, decreases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other serious illnesses. Cardio exercise can strengthen the immune system by flushing bacteria out of our airways. In fact, people who exercise regularly report having fewer sick days on average.
What kinds of exercise count as cardio? Again, cardio exercise is anything that gets your heart pumping and the blood flowing. Dancing, playing sports, jumping rope, and of course, walking and running, are all forms of cardio. Which form of cardio you do does not matter if you do it consistently. Walking and running are both excellent forms of cardio exercise because they require no skill, no equipment, and don’t cost anything. Both walking and running will burn calories and improve your health. Which one is right for you will depend on your personal preference and physical capabilities. There are benefits to running as well as benefits to walking which will determine which cardio exercise is better for you.
Benefits to Running
Running is a high-impact exercise that requires using all muscles in your body. You’ll mainly feel the burn in your legs, as your leg muscles will be doing most of the work. But don’t feel surprised if you wake up with sore oblique muscles or sore arms the morning after a long run. Running will work your core, and your arms may get a workout from the pumping motion back and forth. Running is a weight-bearing exercise that builds bone and muscle strength, in your legs. Strong bones and muscles are important, especially as we age. We lose muscle and bone strength as we get older, making us frailer and more prone to arthritis. Having a foundation of strength will slow down the process and make us less vulnerable to injury.
Running, as you may have guessed, is also great for burning calories. It is one of the best cardio exercises for burning tons of calories in a relatively short amount of time. On average, a person of normal size will burn about 100 calories per mile. Running burns so many calories because the energy expenditure is rather great. The harder your body must work, the more energy it needs to fulfill your demands, thus the more calories it needs to burn to do so. The calorie burn and benefits of running can translate to weight loss and a lower body mass index (BMI). In this way, running can be especially helpful in combatting obesity. Those who are looking to lose weight in a short amount of time should consider taking up running. Beginner runners should start at a slow jogging pace and work their way up, incorporating intervals of walking to catch their breath if needed.
Running for long or even short periods of time is tiring, especially for a beginner. It takes time to build up the stamina to be able to run a steady pace for long distances. With regular training, running will eventually become easier. You may even experience a “runner’s high”, which is basically an awesome feeling you get while in the middle of your run. Suddenly, all aches and pains disappear, and you feel, well, high. A “runner’s high” is likely due to the influx of endorphins your body creates when you are running. Endorphins are natural hormones in your body that can elevate your mood. Exercise increases the level of endorphins in our system. That’s why we feel so awesome after a great workout. Running will make you feel happier, but that’s not to say that running doesn’t have its cons. An endorphin rush and less body fat are great benefits; however, they may come at a cost.
Cons of Running
Running is a high-impact exercise, which means it is taxing on the body, especially your joints. Common running injuries are shin splints, blisters, knee pain, and hip pain. These can be caused by excessive running, improper footwear, or improper running form. Runners are more likely to suffer injuries than those who choose walking as their cardio exercise of choice. About 50 percent of regular runners get injured each year, mostly from muscle overuse. You are 20 to 70 percent more likely to get injured from running than you are from walking. Many of these injuries can be avoided by practicing proper form and getting adequate rest in between runs. Running also runs the risk of a heart attack in individuals who have heart problems. Because running is an intense exercise, the heart rate will increase dramatically in unfit individuals. This will force the heart to pump more blood and oxygen throughout the body. If you have blocked arteries or a weakened heart, the heart won’t be able to keep up with the blood flow. The disruption of blood flow to the heart can cause a heart attack. It’s important for individuals with a history of heart disease to get checked out by a medical professional before attempting a running program. It’s also recommended to start running at a slower pace and lower mileage and build up gradually as your fitness level increases.
Benefits to Walking
The benefits of walking are almost too numerous to list. Walking is a low-impact exercise that burns calories, strengthens your leg muscles, improves mood, and reduces stress. Walking is generally an easy form of cardio for individuals of all fitness levels. While walking does increase the heart rate, it’s not as vigorous an exercise as running. This means you’ll more easily be able to walk for a longer amount of time without getting burnt out. Walking is a full-body exercise, but most of the work will be done with your legs. Your leg muscles will benefit from walking, especially when walking up inclines. Compared to running, your risk of injury while walking is very low, just 1 to 5 percent. While walking is a weight-bearing exercise, it is not as strenuous on the muscles or joints as running.
Walking is excellent for your mental health as well. Like running, walking produces endorphins that boost your mood. Going for just a 10 minute walk a few times throughout the day can have positive effects on your mental well-being. Walking reduces stress by giving you time to clear your mind and remove yourself from stressors. This is true whether you are walking at a leisurely pace or walking more briskly. Because you won’t be exerting as much energy while walking, it will be easier for you to talk and hold a conversation. This makes walking a great form of exercise to do with your partner or friends. It’s a great way to burn calories, release stress, and engage socially simultaneously.
Cons of Walking
The biggest drawback to walking is that it doesn’t burn as many calories as other forms of cardio. Like running, an average-sized person will burn about 100 calories per mile walking. The difference is that walking a mile will take a lot longer than running would. You will have to walk for a longer amount of time to burn as many calories as running for a shorter amount of time. Walking does not engage as many muscles as running does, which is partly the reason for the lower calorie burn. This makes walking not such a great choice for those looking for a more well-rounded form of exercise. Walking also does not produce the same after-burn effect as running and other forms of cardio. The after-burn effect is your body’s post-exercise oxygen consumption level that continues to burn calories even after you have finished your workout. More vigorous activities create a larger after-burn effect because of the oxygen consumption needed during and after. Walking does not require as much oxygen consumption, thus the after-burn effect is much smaller.
For these reasons, walking is not the best form of exercise for those looking to reduce their body fat fast. However, speed walking and power walking will increase your calorie burn per mile as they will increase your heart rate more. Generally, speed walking is around 3.5 miles per hour while power walkers range from 3.5 to 4.5 miles per hour. But some power walkers go as fast as 7 to 10 miles per hour. Walking at these speeds will burn the same number of calories as you would jogging at the same speed. Speed walking and power walking will be much tougher on your cardiovascular system. As with any exercise program, start slow and build your way up to prevent over-exertion. The best way to incorporate speed or power walking into your workout is to do short intervals followed by walking at your normal pace.
You can also get more of a calorie burn from walking up hills or inclines, walking with light hand weights, or wearing a weighted vest. Walking up hills or raising the incline on your treadmill will cause your leg muscles to work harder, therefore creating more of a calorie burn. The extra resistance will build more muscle in your legs than walking on a flat surface. More muscle means a greater calorie burn overall, even when you’re not working out. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, meaning it burns calories while you’re just sitting at home. The more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll be burning daily. If hills aren’t your thing, you can get more resistance in your walking workout by wearing a weighted vest. Adding more weight will make your body namely, your legs, work harder during your walk. You’ll burn more calories during your walk than you would without the extra weight.
Walking with light hand weights will provide a similar benefit. Holding the extra weight in your hands will make your walking workout more intense because you will be working your upper body at the same time. Holding the light hand weights while swinging your arms back and forth will work both your biceps and shoulder muscles. You can incorporate intervals of arm exercises like shoulder presses, biceps curls, or triceps extensions while you’re walking for an even greater arm workout. However, your arms will quickly become tired so be sure that your hand weights are no heavier than 1 to 5 pounds.
To Walk or Run?
As you can see, there are both benefits and cons to walking versus running. Which form of exercise you choose is entirely up to you and your personal preferences. You can also choose to do a combination of both. While running is great for blasting a large number of calories in a short amount of time, it’s taxing on the joints. If you are injury prone, running is likely not your best option. Walking will provide much of the same benefits as running, but the rate at which you burn calories is much lower. It will take longer to lose fat if you are walking as your main form of exercise. However, both walking and running are good for your health and will reduce your risk of diseases and illnesses. Those who are new to exercise should consider walking to build up their fitness before beginning a running program. Walking will increase your cardiovascular health and better prepare you for the more intense demands running has on your heart.
If you are interested in walking or running for weight loss, remember to combine your exercise regime with a healthy balanced diet. Walking and running will both burn calories, but their calorie burning effect will be negated if you continue to overeat. For best weight loss results, eat a reduced calorie diet while practicing a regular walking or running exercise routine. There are plenty of programs available online to guide you through a walking or running fitness plan. Each program is designed for different goals depending on your preferences. They will guide you through the most effective way to build your mileage and pace. Many walking and running programs are designed for helping you complete your first 5K or 10K race. While you don’t have to sign up for a race to use them, a race is a fun way to build up your fitness while working towards a goal. Whether you decide to walk or run, you’ll still be having fun and more importantly improving your lifespan. So go ahead and lace up those sneakers, it’s time to hit the pavement. Always include your physician in all matters of your health and exercise decisions.