Looking at the health benefits of running vs walking
Some people claim you can’t really get fit or lose weight from walking and you need to run.
Many people think that walking one kilometer and running one kilometer burns the same number of calories.
After all you are moving the same distance so you should burn the same number of calories.
What is the difference between the two: which burns more calories and is the best for losing weight?
Let’s tackle the calorie question first.
It is not as simple as it might seem since there are a number of factors to consider.
First of all, most of us assume that running is just walking sped up a bit, but essentially if you are covering the same distance you would burn the same number of calories.
However, walking and running are quite different since something fundamentally changes in our biomechanics when we go from a walk to a run.
It is the same difference with the change of cadence when a horse changes from a walk to a trot and from a trot to a gallop.
The energy required to move from one phase to the other is substantial.
When a person walks, they use their leg as a reverse pendulum and the energy cost of transport (COT) drops during the swing phase of gait.
But when people change to a running gait, the energy required doesn’t drop off at any point during gait and is higher at all points of each stride when compared to walking.
The runner is airborne for much of the gait, touching down briefly with foot contact.
The faster the run, the more energy spent keeping the body off the ground and propelling it forward.
The bones in the arch of the foot, the muscles in the legs and especially the tendons in the leg (including the Achilles tendon) do a tremendous amount of spring recoil to improve energy recovery and minimize energy loss when running.
But muscular work is much higher in order to lift the body off the ground and keep it moving through space when running.
As it turns out, when you measure calorie expenditure for the same weight person, running burns more than twice as many calories than walking for a given time-frame.
For example, a person weighing 160 pounds will burn about 290 calories an hour when walking at three miles per hour, whereas a person running six mph will burn about 675 calories an hour.
There is also an additional calorie burning after the activity is finished, commonly known as ‘after-burn’, that is about twice the amount for running compared with walking.
So running does burn quite a bit more energy than walking.
Can you get fit or lose weight with walking?
You can certainly lose weight by walking (many people have been successful on walking programs), but it must involve a healthy eating plan.
You need to be in a calorie deficit, which means burning more calories than you eat.
And you will need to walk at a brisk enough pace to raise your heart rate and do it for much longer than if you were running.
Walking will be easier on your knees than running if you already have a leg injury or condition like arthritis.
However, even though walking burns calories, most people don’t do it at a fast enough pace to change their cardiovascular level and improve their fitness.
But if you are just starting out, try walking first.
If you have been walking, try to put a minute of jogging in there occasionally.
If you are combining some walking and running, then try longer running segments.
And if you are running steadily, try some occasional wind-sprints.
All the recent evidence shows that higher intensity exercise is better for improving cardiovascular health, burning calories, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and reducing the effects of diabetes.
Start with what you are able to do consistently, then try adding more intensity as you go.
If you are unsure of your health status, see your doctor or have an evaluation by a professional.
Trust and listen to your body – it will adapt and reward you.
Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology in Maple Ridge (westcoastkinesiology.com).