When it comes to the great debate of running versus walking, it seems that everyone has an opinion on which is the best way to get in your daily dose of physical activity. However, a sports medicine expert at Baylor College of Medicine says that deciding between the two activities is a win-win situation.
“Running and walking are both great forms of exercise, and I would encourage people to explore them both,” said Dr. Theodore Shybut, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor. “It’s important to think about your current level of fitness and what experience you have with exercise in general when you start walking or running workouts.”
Shybut said that for those who are starting a new exercise for the first time or have previously had an injury, it’s important to consult with a physician before beginning.
Both running and walking can be used to improve health; regular exercise can reduce blood pressure, increase HDL (good cholesterol), reduce LDL (bad) and total cholesterol, increase overall fitness and improve insulin sensitivity—very important if you have type 2 diabetes or are pre-diabetic.
“Just being active on a regular basis is key from that point of view,” he said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine consensus statement recommends 30+ minutes of moderate intensity activity most, preferably all days of the week.”
However, if you’re trying to maximally increase your athletic performance or fitness level or want to burn more calories and increase your heart rate in a shorter period of time, running will get you there faster than walking.
“There’s no question that the number of calories you burn per unit of time is going to be greater when you’re running because it’s a more intense activity that will get your heart rate up,” said Shybut.
Running does involve more force and impact to the tissue, which can lead to issues such as strains and tendonitis. However, he said it is a myth that running is associated with knee arthritis. There are many factors that can lead to knee arthritis, including genetics, weight and previous trauma. Studies that have looked at runners have typically found no increase in arthritis, and some studies suggest regular exercise keeps knee cartilage healthier.
For those with underlying health conditions that limit intensity of activity, running might not be the ideal exercise, he said.
“There may be scenarios where walking makes more sense for you,” he said, adding that it is still possible to lose weight by walking for exercise.
Shybut also pointed out the importance of being active throughout the day. “There is some belief that being active throughout the day may be better than a short workout and being a couch potato for the rest of the day in terms of your cardiovascular disease risk.”
He suggests taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking a walk at lunch, walking as a family or with the family pet to increase your overall activity level.
Shybut said that the key, whether starting a new running or walking routine, is to understand your baseline. He suggests building up gradually and enlisting the help of a friend or coach with more experience.
When starting either routine, he makes the following suggestions:
- Don’t run or walk a long distance in a brand new pair of shoes – break the shoes in by walking around in them for a few days.
- Get shoes fitted appropriately and make sure your footwear is appropriate for your activity.
- Be aware of the elements – make sure you are appropriately dressed and hydrated.
- Be safe – if you have an underlying medical condition, consider wearing a bracelet or ID with this information in case of emergency.