To walk or to run, that is the question

I get this question all the time – “Do I have to run?” It’s no secret that many of us do not like, or rather loath, running. It tends to be one of those love it or hate it types of exercises. I personally enjoy running, but not enough to run a marathon or even to run every day. And according to the research, you don’t have to! That’s good news for those of us who prefer other activities to running. For example, briskly walking has the same (if not more) benefit to running when compared mile-to-mile.

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A 2013 study from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory found that brisk walking can help lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well as the risk of diabetes and heart disease just as well as running when both are done for the same distance (as opposed to duration). After analyzing about 48,000 runners and walkers between the ages of 18 and 80 (with most being 40-50), the researchers made the following findings:

  •  Running and walking reduced risk of high blood pressure by 4.2% and 7.2%, respectively
  • Running and walking reduced risk of high cholesterol by 4.3% and 7%, respectively
  • Running and walking reduced risk of diabetes by 12.1% and 12.3%, respectively
  • Running and walking reduced risk of heart disease by 4.5% and 9.3%, respectively

The key here is the amount of energy you expend during exercise, meaning you need to burn the same amount of calories to achieve the same benefits. This means that you need to briskly walk the same distance as you would run to achieve comparable health benefits, and this takes about double the amount of time. For example, to get benefits comparable to those from a 30-minute run 3 times a week, you would need to walk briskly for about 30 minutes 6 times a week, or 1 hour 3 times a week, etc. So the downside is that you have to spend more time walking than you would if you were running.

That being said, walking is often a more enjoyable form of exercise for many people, not to mention it is also lower impact and healthier on your joints especially if you’ve had joint problems in the past.

So if you despise running, don’t fret! And the answer to your question is: NO, you do not have to run. The key to getting results is finding activities that you enjoy and can sustain long-term. If running isn’t your thing, that’s ok. There are a lot of other ways you can exercise to achieve your goals!

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The study referenced above was first published in the April 2013 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

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