Your Guide to Cardio: Walking, Jogging, Running
If you're looking for a form of exercise that doesn't require a gym membership or any extra equipment that you can do either on your own or with friends, and that can be both relaxing and invigorating—then walking/jogging/running is a great choice!
Walking, jogging and running provide an opportunity—if you're feeling adventurous—to get outside and explore beautiful natural settings like parks, forests, winding mountain paths, sandy beaches or river-side trails. But you can reap similar benefits by simply taking a stroll or gentle jog or vigorous run around your own neighborhood.
All you need is a comfortable pair of walking or running shoes, loose-fitting clothing that's appropriate to the weather, and the will to get out and do it!
If you're new to running, or coming back to it after an extended hiatus, it may take a little while to create this new exercise habit, and to find your groove. These tips and strategies will help make this transition a smooth and enjoyable one …
Which Is Better For Me: Walking or Running?
For many, the first question is: Which is better, walking or running? Once you're clear about this, you're then free to experiment with various speeds, distances and locations for your walk or run.
A slower running pace is generally referred to as "jogging," while a super-speedy pace is known as "sprinting." Similarly, you can choose to walk at an entirely leisurely pace, or very quickly à la speed-walking—or anything in between.
The choice between walking and running will depend, for one, upon your own preference: Which do you like better? It will also depend on your fitness level and specific purpose. What's your starting-point, and what is it that you're hoping to accomplish with your new walking or running practice?
* Are you aiming to improve your digestion by enjoying a gentle 20-minute walk around the neighborhood immediately after dinner?
* Are you hoping to clear your mind with a brisk jog along a forest path, right at sunrise?
* Are you in training for a 5k or 10k race, or a marathon?
* Are you a sprinter in training for the 4x100 meter relay at the next Olympics?
* Are you a basketball or soccer player hoping to improve your cardiovascular fitness?
* Are you looking for a way to get some fresh air and sunshine every day, while maintaining your ideal weight?
While some of us have specialized reasons for a walking or running workout, the majority take up walking or running simply to support cardiovascular health and overall fitness.
In any case, there are some excellent medical/scientific reasons for choosing walking, and some others for choosing running. These mostly have to do with the differences between high-impact and low-impact exercise; and the benefits of any kind of aerobic exercise ….
The Benefits of Aerobic Exercise
Experts agree that cardiovascular exercise in general—and walking or running in particular—provide important health benefits, such as:
- Increasing stamina
- Boosting the immune system
- Strengthening the heart and circulatory system
- Helping to maintain a healthy weight
- Increasing longevity
The Mayo Clinic recommends two-and-a-half hours weekly (150 minutes) of moderate cardio exercise each week for your health, and walking or running is a great option!
But the benefits of aerobic exercise include not only the body, but also the mind. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry:
"Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression."
As it turns out, just thirty minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise, three times weekly, can improve your mood and self-esteem, and alleviate psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression.
And the thirty minutes doesn't even have to be all at once! A ten-minute walk three times a day can provide the same mental health benefits as a single thirty-minute walk or jog.
If you'd like to experiment with this, try taking a ten-minute walk first thing in the morning; then another one during your lunch-break; and a third ten-minute walk either before or after dinner. Easy!
Since both a brisk walk and a run provide aerobic exercise, is there a good reason to choose one rather than the other? To answer this question, let's explore the difference between high-impact and low-impact exercise.
High-Impact vs. Low-Impact Exercise
The similarities and differences between walking and jogging/running are summed up nicely here:
"Brisk walking and jogging are both aerobic exercises that strengthen your cardiovascular system, burn spare calories and lead to better physical endurance. Walking is a low-impact, moderate-intensity exercise, while jogging is a high-impact, vigorous-intensity exercise."
Walking is considered a "low-impact" activity because one foot is always on the ground, fully supporting the weight of the body. As a result, the weight transfer from one foot to the other foot happens fairly gently, with minimal impact on the joints.
Jogging and running, on the other hand, are considered "high-impact" activities because there are times during which both feet are off the ground. As a result, weight transfer puts much more pressure on the joints each time one of your feet hits the ground.
So, while both walking and jogging can increase endurance, improve your cardiovascular health and burn calories, walking—by virtue of being a low-impact activity—tends to be easier on the joints.
Risks of Injury & Tips for Avoiding It
Both walking and running involve repetitive movements, i.e. the same basic motion repeated again and again. This usually isn't a problem with walking, because it's a low-impact activity.
But since running is a high-impact activity, the repetitive movements can result, over time, in common overuse injuries such as:
- Shin splints
- Stress fractures
- ITB (Iliotibial band) syndrome
Generally speaking, running comes with a much higher risk of exercise-related injury than does walking—and it's not even close. For walkers, the risk of injury is around 1%-5%, while for runners it is 20%-70% !
That said, there are some excellent ways for runners to stay mostly injury-free. Essential injury-prevention tips include:
1. Don't increase your mileage too quickly. Begin with just a short run, and increase the length gradually.
2. Cross-train several times a week. Exercising different muscle groups via a wide range of activities is a key to remaining injury-free.
3. Yoga is an especially excellent cross-training activity for runners (more on this below).
4. Employ a personal trainer or use an app to help you progress gradually, e.g. Couch to 5K. With expert assistance, you can avoid some of the mistakes a beginner might make. An in-person or virtual coach can help you map your routes, calculate pace and distance, and check on your progress day-by-day.
5. Walk instead of running. While it may not be quite as good for burning calories or building cardiovascular capacity, walking actually offers many of the same health benefits as running—but without the same risk of injury.
Balance Your Walking or Running with Yoga
One of the most intelligent ways to support your walking, jogging or running practice is with yoga. What makes yoga such an intelligent cross-training strategy?
Yoga can help you improve balance, build core strength and hip stability, become more flexible, and enhance your mindfulness of movement. Yoga helps us notice how our breathing can support the body by generating energy, releasing unnecessary tensions, and soothing the nervous system.
Together, these benefits of yoga can help you avoid injuries. According to Doctor of Physical Therapy Laura Covill:
"As far as the physical practice, running is a repetitive activity using similar muscles over and over. Yoga's use of all muscles in positions very different from running allows for cross-training. It also develops stability and strength within the trunk and hips, which is essential for running, and can lengthen chronically shortened tissues."
Yoga's wide variety of movements and positions helps to counteract the more repetitive movements of walking, jogging or running. This is what makes it such a perfect cross-training activity!
Walking & Running as Meditation
Whether you are walking, jogging or running, the activity can become a form of meditation. How so?
- By deepening your appreciation of natural beauty
- By enhancing your awareness of physical sensations in your body
- By increasing awareness of your breathing
A great resource for relating to walking or running with a mind of meditation is Thich Nhat Hanh's Guide to Walking Meditation.
The basic idea is to become increasingly mindful of your activity, whether it is walking, running, jogging or any other fitness/sporting activity—which makes it more enjoyable and helps prevent injury.
The Bottom Line
Both walking and running are excellent forms of cardiovascular exercise. And by following the tips and strategies we've offered here, you can maximize your health and happiness while doing it.
For optimal comfort and injury prevention, Mueller Sports Medicine also offers a range of specialized braces and supports as well as kinesiology tape which can provide valuable support for the muscles and joints involved in your walking or running practice.
Question or Comment? Feel free to leave one in the comments section below!
*Please consult with a medical professional if you have any medical issues that may be affected by the suggested activities.