Walking is one of the most popular forms of sports in the world. And for good reason: it’s simple, affordable and effective. Regular walks reduce the risk of many health problems, including anxiety, depression, diabetes and some cancers.
However, once your body gets used to walking, you can pick up the pace, says Alyssa Olenik, an exercise physiologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical University in the United States.
If you can push even a fraction of your walking into jogging, it provides the same physical and mental benefits in much less time.
But how much better is running? And how can you turn your walk into a run?
Why is walking good for you?
When considering the benefits of activities like walking or running, there are two interrelated factors to keep in mind. One is the effect of exercise on your fitness, that is, how it improves the efficiency of your heart and lungs. The second is the final positive result. does it help you live longer?
The gold standard for assessing physical fitness is VO2 max, which measures how much oxygen your body uses when you are actively exercising. It’s also a strong predictor of life expectancy, says Dr. Alison Zielinski, a sports cardiologist.
According to a 2021 study of 2,000 middle-aged men and women, doing even small amounts of activity, such as walking slowly throughout the day, slightly improved VO2 max compared to being completely sedentary. But even bigger benefits come when you start walking faster, which raises your heart rate and breathing rate.
If you work so hard that you can still talk but not sing, you’ve gone from light to moderate physical activity. Studies show that moderate activity strengthens your heart and builds new mitochondria, which produce fuel for your muscles, says Dr. Olenik.
What makes running better?
So how does running compare to walking? It’s more effective, for one thing, says Dak-chul Lee, a professor of physical activity epidemiology at Iowa State University.
Why? It is more than increased speed. Instead of lifting one leg at a time, running involves a series of limits. This requires more strength, energy and power than walking, says Dr. Olenik. For many first-timers, running at any pace, even a slow jog, will make your heart and lungs work harder. This can increase your effort level to what’s known as vigorous activity, meaning you’re breathing hard enough that you can only speak a few words at a time.
Guidelines recommend 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, such as brisk walking, or half that for vigorous activity. That might suggest that running is twice as good as walking. But when it comes to the primary outcome of longevity, some studies have shown that running is even more effective than that.
In 2011, researchers in Taiwan asked more than 400,000 adults how much vigorous exercise (such as running or jogging) and moderate exercise (such as brisk walking) they did. They found that regular five-minute runs extended the subjects’ lifespans as much as 15-minute walks. Regular 25-minute runs and 105-minute walks led to a nearly 35 percent lower risk of death over the next eight years.
Those numbers make sense given the effects of running on fitness. In a 2014 study, Professor Lee and colleagues found that regular runners, including slow runners, performed 30 percent better than walkers and sedentary people. They also had a 30 percent lower risk of dying over the next 15 years.
Although he is a keen advocate of running, Professor Lee suggests that walking and running should be viewed as being on a continuum. “The greatest benefit occurs when moving from ‘nothing’ to ‘little.’ [exercise],” He says.
Whether you’re walking or running, consistency is key. But after that, adding at least some vigorous exercise to your routine will increase the benefits.
How to start walking and then run
Running has its downsides. It is high impact and hard on your connective tissue.
Researchers have debunked myths that running will always ruin your knees, but short-term injuries are more common in runners than walkers. Taking it easy when you walk first allows your body to adjust, which in turn lowers your risk, says rheumatologist Bella Mehta, MD.
In fact, even experienced runners who take a break should recover gradually. “It’s always best to start or increase an exercise program slow and low,” says Dr. Zielinski.
If you want to try running for the first time or get back into it, try this progression.
Step one. Add steps
Increase your step count, says Professor Lee. If you haven’t been exercising at all, start walking an extra 3,000 steps a day, at least a few days a week.
Step two. Slowly increase the tempo
Set aside 10 minutes for a brisk walk three to four times a week, says Dr. Olenik. Aim for an effort level of three to five on a scale of 10. Gradually increase the duration until you can stay on your feet for an hour.
Step three. Splash on the run
As you get fit, you’ll find you need to walk even faster to achieve a moderate intensity. Once that happens, usually after about a month or two, start adding in run-walk intervals. Warm up with five minutes of brisk walking. Then alternate one minute of jogging with three minutes of walking. Repeat this three to five times until the end.
Step four. Try running all the time
Every week or two, increase your running interval and decrease your walking time until you are running consistently.
Dr. Zielinski says to see your doctor first if you’re being treated for heart disease or another chronic condition, or if you have symptoms like chest pain. You may need to undergo a stress test or other evaluation before being cleared to engage in vigorous activity.
Those who can’t (or don’t want to) run can up the intensity in other ways, says Dr. Olenik. For example, add a few hills to your walking route and speed up them. You can jump on a trampoline or try a HIIT workout, on land or in the pool.
The best thing is to combine. brisk walking or other moderate-intensity exercise on some days, vigorous exercise on others, taking more steps on days when you can’t squeeze in a workout. “Get a little bit of everything” every week if you can, says Dr. Olenik. “It all adds up.” – This article originally appeared New York Times
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