What trigged my curiosity to touch this subject was the fact that sometimes when I go to the mountain for my training routine I preferred to walk than to run. Obviously, you might turn to me and say, “You prefer walking than running because your fitness level is low”, and of course this might be used as a reasonable explanation. But, honestly my fitness level at this point is quite good and I wouldn’t use it as an excuse. Actually, my preference for occasionally choosing walking over running has to do completely with the feeling of enjoyment. And, I will explain to you shortly what I mean by that. Running on a dirt path usually requires looking down most of the time in order to avoid the rocks and the holes in your path. Therefore, by looking down most of the time there is a big chance you’ll miss beautiful sights and fully experience every aspect of the nature around you. Consequently, by choosing to walk and keeping my head up I believe that I come closer to nature, which increases my enjoyment.
While, in this post I am not going to explore the psychological components or differences between walking and running (I am giving an idea for a future post to my co-writers), I want to focus on the physiological characteristics between the two. I have put together some of the latest studies comparing walking and running in order for you to decide what suits your characteristics and personal goals.
A study measuring energy expenditure by indirect calorimerty found that running has a greater energy cost than walking on both the track and treadmill. More specifically, it has been found that running required more energy for 1600m than walking (treadmill: running ~115 calories, walking ~81 calories; track: running ~115 calories, walking ~80 calories) on both the track and treadmill.
Although there has been much debate about the amount of calories burned from running versus walking the same distance, a study in 2012 showed that individuals with average fitness level who walked 1600m burned 89 calories during the exercise and 110 calories over the next half an hour after the workout, while participants who ran 1600m burned 112 calories during the exercise and 159 calories during the half an hour of recovery.
A more recent study, also supported the fact that higher energy expenditure leads to greater body weight loss. More specifically, the study aiming to test whether equivalent changes in moderate (walking) and vigorous exercise (running) produce equivalent weight loss under free-living conditions reported greater weight loss from running than walking during a 6.2 years prospective follow-up. More interestingly, it was also found that even when runners and walkers spent equal amounts of energy (meaning walkers spent more time exercising and covered greater distances), runners still lost more weight and had a better chance of maintaining their BMI and waist circumference.
An explanation for the greater weight loss from running than walking can be explained by another recent study, which supported that running regulates our appetite hormones better than waking. After 60 min walking or running participants were invited to a buffet, where walkers consumed almost 50 calories more that they had burned, while the runners consumed about 200 calories fewer than they had burned. A good explanation for the changes in appetite might originate from the hormonal changes during walking and running. However, from my point of view, rather than the hormonal changes a specific psychological pattern also might have played an important role in this experiment. It is possible that subjects related running with a healthier lifestyle than they did with walking. As a result, runners might felt healthier after their workout and try to keep up this healthy pattern by controlling their diet more. And on the other hand, the weaker correlation between walking and health led the walkers to consume more calories. This is a parameter that must definitely be examined more carefully and in more detail in the future.
However, beyond losing weight, another study suggests that going full speed isn’t the only way towards good health. A study comparing National Runners and Walkers revealed that equivalent energy expenditures by moderate (walking) and vigorous (running) exercise produced similar risk reductions for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and possibly coronary heart diseases (CHD). This is an outcome, which is more than promising for older adults and people with running difficulties.
In my opinion, staying active must include a variety of physical activities. Do you like to walk? Then walk. Do you prefer to run? Then run. Do whatever gives you joy. It’s essential to stay physically active in your daily life and also to listen carefully to your body signals and emotional needs. And if you are bored with both walking and running there are several other alternatives to keep yourself physically active. Activities like biking, swimming, weight lifting, yoga and pretty much everything in between will keep you energetic and healthy. But you should always keep in mind that in order to start performing any physical activity you should start by walking towards it.