The Richmond Register

June 2, 2013

Running or walking: which is better?

By Dr. Jack Rutherford
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — Running and walking both have their pros and cons.

Recent research, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that habitual runners gain less weight than habitual walkers, when the amount of energy they expend in their workouts is the same.

And another study, published in the same month in a different journal, showed that running is no better than walking for the prevention of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and coronary heart disease.

So, when it comes to your metabolic health, walking is just as good as running. But when it comes to fitting into that pair of jeans, running trumps walking. There you have it.

Both running and walking have had their ups and downs. Researchers began investigating the health effects of running in the early 1980s, as the numbers of self-identified joggers in the nation grew from 100,000 to over 30 million.

The positives were chronicled, but physicians were starting to see many more stress fractures, inflammations of the knee, heel spurs and shin splints. They wondered if running could be doing more harm than good.

News of the natural release of endorphins, the so-called “runner’s high” also reached the masses, contributing to the thought by some that overzealous fitness nuts were perhaps becoming addicted to running.

Those fears were spiked in the summer of 1984 when 52-year-old best-selling author and running guru Jim Fixx collapsed and died from a massive heart attack while jogging.

About the same time, the Rockport shoe company commissioned cardiologist James Rippe to investigate the benefits of walking. The question to be answered was, might a less intense form of exercise do the body good?

Rippe published promising data suggesting that a brisk half-hour walk taken three times a week was enough to improve cardiovascular health by 15 percent.

The sport shoe industry now had a new focus to bring to the marketplace.

During the mid-1980s, Rockport released the ProWalker athletic shoe, the first product in its class.

As walking starting increasing in popularity and running declined (by almost 40 percent from 1979 to 1985), more than 40 companies followed Rockport’s lead and began selling versions of the walking shoe.

One advertising director was quoted as saying, “If you look at the fitness boom as ripples on a pond, then jogging was the first ring, aerobics the second, and we think walking is the third.”

Both running and walking can be healthy forms of exercise. The potential for abuse for runners is greater however.

Nevertheless, the best form of exercise is the one you will do regularly.