Thursday, January 28, 2010

Running vs. Walking: Which is Best?

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

This may be one of the great debates of all time, rating right up there with Yankees or Dodgers and boxers or briefs. Which is the better exercise, walking or running?

It's an argument that draws almost violent confrontations between practitioners. I'm going to try and sort out some of the static for you.

Let's start with some definitions for the terms walk, speedwalk, jog, and run. It can be hard to draw hard-and-fast lines, but there are two things we can say with some certainty:
  • First, the difference between walking and running is that a walker always has one foot on the ground, while a runner is temporarily airborne. That's simple enough, isn't it? That's why some say walking is easier on the joints.
  • Second, running tends to burn more calories than walking. I think you could argue this point when you talk about speedwalking, but the average person won't be going that far. Speedwalking is best known as an Olympic sport (although some people enjoy doing it for fun), and it's darn hard.
Beyond this, things can get a bit murky. I divide them by speed this way:
  • an 8-minute mile is running
  • between 8 and 12 minutes per mile is jogging (most people will be between 8 and 10 minutes)
  • between 12 and 17 minutes per mile is speedwalking
  • anything over a 17-minute mile is walking (most people can do between 18 and 20 minutes without much trouble)
Arbitrary divisions, to be sure, but good enough for our use. In practice, most people either walk or jog. Running and speedwalking require more muscle fitness than the other two, which is why most people don't do them. I remember once trying my hand at speedwalking, using a couple of handweights. My butt was so sore, I had trouble bending over and climbing stairs for several days. (Not good when your job requires both!)

If you check our trusty aerobic charts, you'll find that jogging at 8-10 minutes/mile is worth 4 points and walking at 18-20 minutes/mile is worth 1 point... which makes jogging four times as good as walking from an aerobic standpoint. But this has to be an estimate, since we're rounding off times; Ken Cooper originally said he built some wiggle room into the figures, so you could be sure you were getting enough exercise. If you check the charts at 2 and 3 miles for these times, you'll see that gap shrinking; by the 5 mile mark, the points are 24 and 9, or slightly less than a 3-to-1 ratio.

If you enjoy jogging, which I do, then jogging is a great way to get some serious exercise in very little time. But I also enjoy walking, and that's something I can do when I don't have the energy to jog. I don't think of it as an either/or situation; you can include both in a fitness program, and should choose whichever fits in with your schedule and your personal likes... and don't let anybody make you feel guilty about it.

I mentioned the 10K steps program yesterday. I happen to think this is a wonderful adaptation of the Cooper point system, and one that almost everybody can use, even if they don't think they can do an exercise program. Tomorrow I'll give you the basics of how it works.

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