If you are like many active people, if the weather is good, you get outside regularly to either walk, or run. And maybe if you are one of the walkers, you think: maybe I should be running instead?
And if you are a runner, sweating, breathing hard, perhaps you wonder if it would be just as good to be walking. So which is better, health wise: running or walking? Some recent studies compared the two forms of exercise and gave some answers.
The overall answer of which is better depends upon what your health goal is. If you are trying to lose weight or keep your weight stable as you get older, running seems the better choice. For other health goals, walking wins.
First, running. Published in the April 2013 journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers presented results of a huge study of 15,237 walkers and 32,215 runners from health-conscious northern California, over a six-year period.
They found that runners were much more likely to keep their waistlines trim and their weight stable over the years, than were the walkers. You might think that is because running is a much more vigorous exercise, so the runners expended more calories than the walkers, but the research compared equal amounts of calories expended by each group.
(Note that to expend the same amount of calories walking as running, you need to walk about 50% more distance, and the time required for walking is about twice as long as if you were running.)
The difference between running and walking—that runners were able to keep their weight under better control than walkers—seemed to be especially true for people above 55 years, even if the pace of running for the older people was rather slow.
One reason that running gives better weight control seems to be, as explained in The Journal of Obesity (2012), is that running depresses appetite whereas walking does not seem to. After a run, the study showed that runners didn’t eat so much. They ate fewer calories than they expended in their run. But individuals who had taken a long walk were hungrier afterwards, and actually ate more calories than they had expended in their walk. Running (and not walking) appears to stimulate secretion of a hormone “peptide YY” which suppresses appetite.
Now if you are not concerned about losing weight or keeping trim, walking might be a better choice. A study published in April 2013, which analyzed the same group of nearly 50 thousand individuals from the first study above, was interested in whether walking or running was better for reducing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, and preventing diabetes and heart disease.
They found that both running or walking gave significant, and essentially equivalent, improvements in all these important health markers. However in one area—heart disease—walking showed more benefit. Runners reduced their risk of heart disease by 4.5 percent, while walkers reduced their risk by over 9 percent.
One unexpected bonus the researchers found was that both walking and running equally decreased the risk of developing cataracts of the eyes.
In summary, you could choose your exercise based on your own goals, or, do a mix of walking and running. Remember however that runners are more prone to injuries. Knee problems, for example, are more common from running than walking. (Whatever you do, proper footwear is important to help avoid injuries.)
The important thing is to do something: walking, running, biking, football, or whatever combination…choose the exercises that you like and will actually do. Research studies can be great, but sometimes listening to your body is the most important thing.
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