Why you should walk before you run

Sarah-Belle Murphy
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Image: Getty

Walking better for health

For the non-runners out there, I think we can all agree: when you're in the gym or out in the sunshine there is something inanely smug about the speedy treadmill and pavement pounders. It seems the more the sweat pours off their puce faces, the more pleased with themselves they appear. Or is that just the walker's complex?

Work-out wonder
Well, the good news is that in terms of getting honed and toned and boosting overall health, running does not leave walking in the shadows as so many might believe.

In fact, in terms of fitness, new research has shown that not only does regular walking have definite body benefits; it is less like to cause injury and actually offers a better workout than running.

Even it out
It's a simple bit of maths, but not many of us realise that running and walking burn the same amount of kilojoules, kilometre for kilometre.

Of course the slower pace of walking means covering the same distance takes longer but, and this is the best part, it actually burns more fat than the speed demon option.

Killer fat burner
If that wasn't exciting enough for the walkers in the world, the motion used when walking, compared to running, offers the hips, bum and tum a better workout. Why? According to fitness experts, the movements required lengthen and strengthen the lower body. Unlike running, walking helps women lose weight in the right places — running, for example, doesn't encourage weight loss around the bust.

Wellbeing wonder
The long-term benefits of regular jaunts are undeniable. According to Dr JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in the US, walking is as "close to a magic bullet in modern medicine". No pill lowers the risk of chronic illnesses such as osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's. And it's not just your body that benefits.

And it’s not just your body that benefits. A study by the University of Illinois, in the US, found that six weeks of 20-minute walks created benefits similar to undergoing a course of psychotherapy.

The technique
But before you start looking as smug as the runners, 'walking' doesn't mean ambling at a leisurely pace of a sloth. Reaping the true benefits requires the right pace and technique. Ideally you should pick up the pace until you are just short of a slow jog speed. The aim is to be walking fast enough so you are slightly breathy but still able to talk.

In terms of technique, the key is to land on the heel and then transfer the weight down the outside of the foot to the ball so you can push off with the big toe. Keep muscles loose and don't lock the knees. Work out your arms at the same time by keeping them at 90 degrees and moving them with the body. .

To burn more kilojoules, walk on grass (which can burn up to 50 percent more) or on sand, where you can burn up to three times as many kilojoules as you would on the pavement.

The message
Perhaps the story of the tortoise and the hare rings true in terms of fitness, too. After challenging the tortoise to a race and subsequently losing, the hare's message is one that we can all take home: "Don't brag about your lightning pace, for slow and steady won the race!"

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