ScientiFIT Walking

Published on June 18th, 2013 | by ScientiFIT


When is it Better to Walk Than to Run?

In a previous article, we discussed the multi-faceted benefits of running. But is running always the preferable exercise paradigm? If not, when is it better to walk than to run? Figure 1 summarizes some key factors to consider and further explanation is provided below.

Figure 1. Running may not always be the most appropriate form of exercise. What factors do you need to consider when deciding to walk versus run?

1) Do you have pain in your knee joint? 

  • One of the most common reasons for knee joint is osteoarthritis (osteo=”bone”; arthritis =”inflammation of the joint”). Osteoarthritis, therefore, is the accumulation of inflammation, which often results in pain.
  • Interestingly, studies have shown that short-distance running in animals with osteoarthritis of the knee is beneficial. [1
  • However, when the distance of running is increased, animals develop pain in the knee joint.
  • Additionally, vigorous or long-distance running results in damage in the cartilage. [1]
  • Of note, the angle of paw placement (in animals) appears to determine rate of degeneration/damage in the joints.
  • Since the risk of developing osteoarthritis is generally increased with age, it may be concluded that running is not a more favorable choice  than walking.

2) How old are you?!

  • Osteoarthritis and other types of joint pain are more prominent in elderly. 
  • Importantly, moderate-intensity running has been shown to improve memory and cognition in the elderly. [2, 3]
  • Therefore, while moderate running may be beneficial in the old population, this should not come at the cost of joint pain. In fact, walking can also provide significant benefits (see below)

3) Are you concerned about developing chronic diseases such as high cholesterol, diabetes, etc.?

  • A recent and very comprehensive study used the National Runners’ Health Study to assess risk of chronic disease development in ~30,000 runners compared to ~15,000 walkers. [4] The number of subjects in this study, alone, provide significant reliability.
  • This study demonstrated that risk reduction for development of hypertension, diabetes, and chronic heart disorder were not different between runners and walkers, suggesting that at least some of the long-term benefits of running can also be acquired through walking!
  • Importantly, however, energy expenditures in both groups was the same. This means that in order to burn a similar number of calories to runners, walkers exercised for longer durations than runners.

4) Are you male or female?

  • Males: There appears to be a dogma within the male population against walking! However, a study has shown that gender-sensitive walking programs can be effective for weight management in males. [5]
  • Females: In general, women athletes (especially runners) have a higher tendency to develop the following three clinical concerns: Eating disorders, menstrual dysfunction, and low bone mass density leading to osteoporosis. [6]
  • These differences may be at least partly attributed to differences in biomechanics of female runners versus male runners, whereby studies have shown that women run, jump, and land differently from men! [7]

In conclusion, running may not always be the most appropriate exercise paradigm while walking may provide significant benefits, especially in the context of disease prevention.


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ScientiFIT is a site that translates the most recent scientific findings in the fields of fitness and nutrition into a language that is easy to understand by all.

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