Many of us, especially those over 50, don’t really have a choice anymore. Running, or even jogging, is no longer an option due to sore hips or knees, or maybe it’s back or foot issues that make the impact of running a problem. An exercise teacher I know likes to joke, “I only run now if I’m being chased!” But for those who run, walk, or do both – or want to start– here’s the latest thinking about the benefits.
Running, Falling, and Cortisol
As you would guess, runners sustain more injuries than walkers, with a 25% higher risk for young men. Serious runners and marathoners suffer injuries such as tibia stress syndrome, stress fractures, Achilles tendon injuries, and plantar fasciitis. Running produces an impact of approximately 2.5 times body weight, while the impact of walking is in the range of 1.2 times body weight. Also, consider this, a trip on an uneven sidewalk when running, increases the likelihood of a bad fall much more than what’s likely with a fast walk, whether you’re moving fast or slow.
But, joggers do gain benefits. “Running moderately prolongs life more than walking does,” says Peter Schnohr, a clinical cardiologist and author of the Copenhagen City Heart Study. Note he said “moderately.” Schnohr warns that there is upcoming research indicating that extreme endurance training over the long term can lead to heart problems.
Cortisol is a stress hormone, released as part of our fight-or-flight reflex. The body does perceive an hour plus run as stress, and the cortisol levels of endurance runners are notably higher than average. The chemical processes involving proteins converting to glucose can decrease dense muscles and increase abdominal fat. We do not need that! Best to mix resistance and weight training exercise with running, choose a healthy diet, and make sure you consume carbohydrates and protein after exercise to lower the cortisol response.
Let’s Hear it for Walking
Research has shown that walking does bring significant health benefits; it will help you live longer and fight off disease. And you can do as much as you like. A nine-year British study of over 1 million women found that moderate exercise, like walking two to three times a week, reduced the risk of heart disease, stroke, and blood clots by 20 percent when compared to sedentary women. Other moderately-intense exercises such as cycling and gardening were also associated with reduced risks.
Menopausal Mood Booster
One out of eight middle-aged women in the US suffers from depression. Women ages 40 to 59 have the highest rate of depression (12.3 percent) of any age/gender group according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yet, the runner’s high is not required for relief. A study reported at the North American Menopause Society meeting in Washington D.C., 2011, found that moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking was a better mood-enhancer for women in midlife than more high-intensity exercise like running. Simple, low cost, and calorie burning, a brisk walk can help fight both depression and anxiety–which are common menopausal symptoms.
Do Whatever You Will Keep Doing
The more you enjoy a physical activity the more you will do it. The bottom line is that walking is pretty much as good for you as running but it takes about double the amount of time invested to get the benefits. It is helpful to find a friend or neighbor who will be your regular walking (or jogging) buddy. It’s very motivating to know someone is expecting you to show up at the corner! Invest in the best shoes you can afford. This will prevent blisters, soreness, plantar fasciitis and injuries that will absolutely give you an excuse to stop. Shops that specialize in shoes for runners usually have helpful, informed staff that can get you into the right shoes for your feet.
Also, it’s always a good idea to check in with your health care provider before you begin an exercise program.