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Updated 25 January 2016

The running vs. walking debate

There are many different theories when it comes to the running vs. walking for health and weight loss. We consulted two experts to get answers.

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The age-old debate on whether walking or running offers the most benefits remains an active discussion among fitness fans.

While some claim that the only way to reap the most health benefits is to hit the ground hard and break out a sweat, others differ and say that a brisk or leisurely walk can be just as good as a sprint.

Determine your goal

Health24's fitness and biokinetics expert, Habib Noorbhai, explains that both running and walking have a number of physical and mental health benefits, but the one form might be better suited to one individual’s goals than the other.

Brisk walking, for example, might unlock more health benefits for someone with heart disease or asthma, while running may be best for someone wanting to lose weight, he explains.

Weight loss is about burning energy

Scientist and Registered Biokineticist, David-John Hume agrees with Noorbhai, saying that "running should take the lead for those wanting to prioritise weight management".

He highlights the findings from a 2013 study which observed the weight management of 15 237 walkers and 32 215 runners.

“The study showed that runners were not only leaner than the walkers at the outset of the project, but that they were better able to maintain their body mass and waistlines over 6.2 years of follow-up.” [1]

This could be due to the fact that running is a better regulator of the brain’s appetite response, which means that you are more likely to be a disciplined eater following a short run than after a long walk [2], Hume explains.

Read: Why running is good for you

Noorbhai concurs, saying that “running generally burns more energy than walking and therefore it is a good form of exercise for people wanting to lose weight".

Don’t overdo it

However, this doesn’t mean that everybody wanting to lose weight must run like the wind because, in some cases sprinting might defeat the purpose and do more harm than good, Noorbhai cautions.

“If you run too fast, you might not burn as much fat due to the fact that it might be hard to sustain the pace long enough to burn fat. Sprinting might also do damage to the bones and joints in some people.”

Hume explains that "walking is a lower impact activity than running and therefore coincides with lower levels of stress on the joints (particularly in persons with a higher BMI who bear more weight on their lower back, hip and knee joints)". [3]

He further cites a 2015 study which showed that running for weight control and for health means limiting your runs to 40 minutes per day or less, as bouts longer than this have no additional health benefit and, in some cases, may even associate with cardiotoxicity and a shorter lifespan.[4]

Walking also packed with health benefits

"Data from the National Runners’ and Walkers’ Health Study show that walkers and runners who expend the same amount of energy reap near-identical health benefits, including a reduced risk of hypertension, elevated cholesterol and diabetes, and cardiovascular events,"[5] encourages Hume.

He says we should "run for weight management, walk for joint health, and run or walk for general health and wellbeing. Or, better yet, mix it up!"

Read more:

How much exercise is too much?

5 tips for reducing sports-related joint injuries

Walk your way to a healthier body

Sources:

Habib Noorbhai (MPhil); David-John Hume (PhD)

References:

[1] P. T. Williams, “Greater weight loss from running than walking during 6.2-yr prospective follow-up,” Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., vol. 45, no. 4, p. 706, 2013.

[2] D. E. Larson-Meyer, S. Palm, A. Bansal, K. J. Austin, A. M. Hart, and B. M. Alexander, “Influence of running and walking on hormonal regulators of appetite in women,” J. Obes., vol. 2012, 2012.

[5] M. Wulf, S. C. Wearing, S. L. Hooper, J. E. Smeathers, T. Horstmann, and T. Brauner, “Achilles tendon loading patterns during barefoot walking and slow running on a treadmill: An ultrasonic propagation study,” Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports, 2015.

[4] C. J. Lavie, D. Lee, X. Sui, R. Arena, J. H. O’Keefe, T. S. Church, R. V Milani, and S. N. Blair, “Effects of running on chronic diseases and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality,” in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2015, vol. 90, no. 11, pp. 1541–1552.

[5] P. T. Williams and P. D. Thompson, “Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk reduction,” Arterioscler. Thromb. Vasc. Biol., vol. 33, no. 5, pp. 1085–1091, 2013.

 

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