Most people know that cardiovascular exercise is important for general health, not just for weight loss. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week and notes that doubling this can offer even more health benefits.1
When most people think of exercise, they think of going to the gym or going for a run. While these are both great forms of exercise, they are not the only options. A brisk walk can be just as good for you when it comes to heart health.
Indeed, there are many people who cannot run or who need to build up to being able to run because they suffer from medical conditions such as arthritis or exercise-induced asthma.2,3 For these people, power walking is a great start.
The Difference in Calorie Burn
The rate at which physical activities burn calories is measured using metabolic equivalents (METs). One MET is the amount of energy that the body burns sitting still and doing nothing. Moderate-intensity physical activity is an activity that is rated at three to six METs, meaning that it burns three to six times more calories per hour. Vigorous activities are ones that are rated at more than six METs.4
The key thing to note here is that METs are purely a multiplier and people have different degrees of fitness. Mowing the lawn with a mower that you have to push yourself is considered to be a moderate activity (three to six METs), and it would not be a workout for an athlete, but a completely sedentary person would find it tiring.
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Jogging is a vigorous activity, and running at a faster pace than that is even more intense. Jogging for 30 minutes will burn more calories than walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes, so from the perspective of just calorie burn, jogging is a better use of your time. However, if you are not at a high level of fitness, then you may not be able to keep up the pace of a run for that length of time, so you may not actually be reaping that benefit.
Stress on the Joints
Brisk walking is easier on the knees than running, and this benefit is one that should not be overlooked for people who are overweight or obese. It is better for them to engage in a regular exercise routine that they can stick to and that will not injure them than risk getting hurt and becoming even more sedentary.
Running puts stress on the joints, even for those who are not obese, and the risk increases for those who are carrying extra weight. Walking does not create this same stress.5
Studies show that taking regular brisk walks offers clear health benefits for people who are otherwise sedentary. One study conducted in 2005 looked at the effects of taking five 30-minute long brisk walks per week on the fitness of those aged 50 to 65.
The participants saw a reduction in their blood pressure and stroke risk, as well as increased functional capability after following that routine for 12 weeks.6
When it comes to health, the first thing to remember is that any physical activity is better than being sedentary. If you have to start small with just walking slowly around the block, then that is OK. As you get fitter, you can walk faster and walk for longer distances and enjoy greater health benefits.
It may be that simply getting into the habit of walking to the shops or walking to and from work is enough for you, and you will certainly get some protective benefit from doing that. Exercising for longer than the minimum guidelines each week offers greater benefits, including helping keep your resting energy expenditure higher for longer.7
There is no simple answer to the question of whether running is better than power walking. Both forms of exercise have benefits. Rather than worrying about which one is optimal, you should consider which you are more likely to stick to.
Some people love running and look forward to lacing up their shoes each morning. Some people dread running, but would gladly take a walk around the park. Some people start out never imagining themselves being active at all, lose weight through regular walking, and then embark on a Couch to a 5K training plan and become regular racers. When it comes to taking care of your health, the important thing is that you are being active.
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