Our expert says:
No, you are correct, one should make a distinction between different types of exercise. I think that the reason this is not done, is because the activities are close enough to the average person that they are are almost identical. Now, recommendation that you mention actually specifies that the intensity must be moderate - this means that any form of exercise, provided it's perceived as moderate, is good enough. This may also sound very vague, but you have to remember that intensity is very relative. In otherwords, if you are running 30 minutes a day, it may be moderate to you, but to someone just starting out, it would be way to hard, and they would have to walk instead. The guideline actually goes as far as to say that even taking the flight of stairs instead of the elevator would count towards this 30 minutes, and in the end, they recommend that you accumulate 30 minutes a day in any way possible. However, and here's the catch - other studies have found that this very easy type of activity does not actually do that much and some studies suggest a more vigourous form of exercise is good enough. These studies would then suggest that walking is not quite hard enough to cause the health benefits of exercise, and that you should run instead. I tend to agree. I don't think that one should get despondent if you are not fit and can only walk, because anyone doing any form of exercise, no matter how easy or hard is going to benefit from it, but I do think that the benefit increases as the exercise becomes more difficult or higher in intensity. This happens up to a point, and then the benefits start to decrease, because the stress on the body becomes too high. That's why 3 hours a day of training is out of the question for all but a few elite athletes. So, from a health benefits point of view, I do think that one should aim to exercise hard enough to be really 'stressed' by the training, but not so hard as to be completely exhausted. In your case, therefore, if you can run 30 minutes, I would say go for it, but if you are having a tough day, there's no harm in walking either.
Now, in terms of weight loss, I am a firm believer that harder is sometimes better. I say sometimes because one can exercise too hard as I've discussed. HOwever, I do think that you benefit more from running 30 minutes than walking 30 minutes, purely because you burn more calories. In terms of comparing sports, this can get quite tricky, because the sports all have disadvantages and advantages. For example, running actually has the highest energy expenditure, and you burn more calories running that you would cycling, but there is the added impact and risk of injury. Therefore, it would not make sense to run 30 minutes every day, and get injured in 2 weeks, when you could cycle for 30 minutes every day and keep going for 12 months. The choice is therefore very much up to you on this aspect.
I hope this has cleared it up a little
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