I recently read an interesting editorial in the Journal of American College of Cardiology about the relative benefits of walking and running . The editorial is partly a comment on a paper published in the same edition of the journal which found that running for 5-10 minutes a day is associated with a 45 per cent reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease over a 15-year period. Overall mortality was also reduced (by 30 per cent).
This sort of ‘epidemiological’ evidence cannot tell us for sure that running is having benefits here (just that running is associated with the benefits found). However, the article also cites research showing that in individuals who have had a heart attack, those who take up exercise have better outcomes than those who don’t.
The editorial goes on to compare the benefits associated with running with those associated with walking. Overall, it seems the benefits of a 5-minute run match those of a 15-minute walk. Also, broadly speaking, it seems the benefits associated with a 25-minute run are, overall, equivalent to walking for 1 hour 45 minutes. The authors make the point that if one is young and vibrant, running is more time-efficient.
This may be broadly so, but what I think the authors fail to factor is time spent around the time of exercise. Running will generally require individuals to get changed twice and shower once too. Plus, we may have time stretching (before and/or after exercise) and maybe even cooling down. A 5-minute run could, in reality, easily take half an hour out of one’s day (in other words, significantly more time than that devoted to say, a 15-minute walk (which, generally, will require no changing, stretching or showering).
The authors do go on, though, to point out that running can have a ‘hefty cost’ to the body in terms of injury. The authors cite the fact that even experienced runners with good preparation may be prone to injury. I know from first hand experience what they are talking about here, as I used to run a lot, and had a succession of running related injuries (shin, right ankle, left hip, sacroiliac joints in the pelvic, lower back, to name a few), which eventually led me to retire from running.
In contrast the authors make specific mention of the high ‘safety factor’ of walking, which they say ‘can be sustained for months or years.’ I have written before about how I sometimes suggest individuals adopt activities they could imagine themselves sustaining into their later years (such as their 80s). Walking usually fits the bill here, while running generally does not.
The authors also write about how running generally requires a bigger commitment than walking. Running is harder work, particularly in the initial stages, and the mental barriers to it can be greater than walking. As they point out, walking is easier to do and more conducive to ‘social networking’.
This editorial, I think, is a thoughtful and useful contribution to the conversation on activity and exercise. What the authors do, I believe, is take a balanced and pragmatic approach, highlighting the benefits of a form of activity most people can partake in with little risk of injury and may contribute to enhanced wellbeing and health for pretty much the whole of their lives.
Some people love to run, are well suited to it, and that is all good and well. However, for many (including those who are substantially overweight), running is generally not ideal exercise. Many would rather stick pins in their eyes than go running outside or on a treadmill. For a lot of us, walking offers what looks to be a viable and sustainable activity, particularly as we age. Not all of us were ‘born to run’, but almost all of us were ‘born to walk’, I think.
1. Wen CP, et al. Minimal amount of exercise to prolong life: To walk, to run, or just mix it up? JACC 2014;64(5):482-484