A brisk walk is a great low-impact way to get your heart pumping. And while you’ll have to walk longer to get the same cardiovascular benefits as you would running for less time, studies continue to show that walking is on par, if not slightly more beneficial, than running. With the help of Dr. Diane Bedrossian, MD, a family physician with Downtown Toronto Doctors by day and fitness instructor by night, we’ve separated fact from fiction to help choose the right pace for you.
1. Running can lead to more injuries than walking.
This, Dr. Bedrossian states, is true. “About half of regular runners report an injury each year,” she says. “Some injuries are traumatic, however, most are related to overuse and many involve the knee. The most common running-related injuries running-related injuries include: patellofemoral knee pain syndrome, shin splints, Achilles’ tendonitis, iliotibial bad syndrome, plantar fasciitis and stress fractures of the metatarsals and tibia.” She points out there are a number of variables influencing these injuries, such as miles logged and the intensity at which they are run, wearing appropriate footwear and even an individual’s biomechanics.
2. Walking is more sustainable long-term.
When our bodies are younger and more agile, walking may seem the less obvious choice in terms of maximum gains—in the short term. But due to the risk of injury and the downtime required for rehabilitating running-related injuries, as well as factors such as inclement weather, walking is more sustainable yearlong as we move through different phases of life. There is also the possibility that due to downtime required post-injury, running can actually lead to less weight loss in the long run, especially if you don’t turn to other forms of exercise during that period, says Dr. Bedrossian. Establishing a walking routine now can ensure it becomes an integral part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle well into the later years of life, when higher-impact exercise can be difficult.
3. Walking improves mental health.
While there is no shortage of devoted runners who will tell you that running comes close to a spiritual experience, walking has been proven to elicit mental and emotional benefits that some experts liken to being in a meditative state. Especially if you can do it in nature. In his most recent study, Marc Berman at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto found that participants displayed a “16 percent increase in attention and working memory” after an hour spent walking in nature as opposed to a bustling urban environment. Regardless of where you do it, walking is a great way to boost levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that help improve our mood and put an extra hop in our step.
4. Running causes you to eat more.
While further research needs to be done to confirm whether running in and of itself causes one to eat more, current studies do show that while type of exercise might not necessarily cause excessive hunger, the length of time spent doing it, can. “The duration of exercise may be the most important factor in controlling an increased appetite induced by exercise,” says Dr. Bedrossian. Bursts of short, intense exercise such as running, or low-intensity exercises like walking, seem to help control eating compensation, whereas exercising too much or too long can hinder weight loss efforts by patients increasing how much they eat and their food choices. Simply put, unless you’re an athlete in training, there are drawbacks to overdoing it, one of which could be eating in excess. In this case, more is not necessarily better, whether you are walking or running.
5. Walking actually wards off disease.
Dr. Bedrossian expounds the benefits of walking as a means of preventing and managing osteoporosis. It works as a weight-bearing exercise, which describes any exercise done on your feet that works your bones and muscles against gravity. But the list of disease and chronic illnesses that walking helps prevent doesn’t stop there, going on to include the treatment of anxiety and fatigue, prevention of Alzheimer’s, and an overall improvement to quality of life. A recent study conducted by the Journal of the American Heart Association also found that walking lowers the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, with results being marginally better among walkers versus runners.