The sun is shining. The birds are singing and the weather is picture perfect. A gorgeous day is beckoning you outside to exercise. As you head out the door you ponder your options. Should you go for a leisurely walk and enjoy the sights? Or would you be better off pounding the pavement, energetically running through the neighborhood? Your health and fitness goals should dictate your direction. Here are some guidelines to consider.

Goal: Overall Health
Recommendation: Walking

If you are looking to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle, then walking may be the mode of exercise for you. A study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley and published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology found that walking and running offered similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. So why, then, is walking recommended to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Walking is a less demanding form of exercise than running. The impact of your foot on the pavement when you run can stress your ankles, shins, knees, and even your back. Walking is also a good form of weight bearing exercise that helps strengthen the bones and has a low risk of injury.

Goal: Training for a Race
Recommendation: Work up to a run

If you've been active for some time and are looking to partake in a 5k, obstacle race, fun run, or a triathlon, go ahead and begin mapping routes around the neighborhood and pushing your heart rate. On the other hand, if you've been inactive for sometime and want to compete, you're better off easing your way into vigorous exercise like running. Start by walking a mile and assess the way you feel. If you aren't overly fatigued and sore, gradually pick up the pace and add to the distance. In time your body will adjust to the demands of exercise and your endurance will improve. Starting slowly is one of the best ways to prevent injury.

Goal: Weight Loss
Recommendation: Running

A study conducted by Paul Williams at Berkeley National Lab and published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that more weight was lost through running than walking. Studies have yet to understand why; however, Williams speculates that because running is more vigorous, there is an "after burn" effect. What this means is running depletes oxygen more than walking does and the body has to work harder (or use more energy) to return it to a resting state. Another theory proposed by Williams is that, after vigorous exercise, the appetite becomes suppressed.

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, reviewed this article. 



American Heart Association. "Walking Versus Running for Hypertension, Cholesterol, and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction" (Paul T. Williams and Paul D. Thompson, authors)