Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Run for your life. Or just walk.

You see them out pounding pavement at the break of dawn, running for their life—running to keep fit, strong and healthy. Some are competitive runners, training for the next marathon; others are recreational runners.
     There’s no doubt about it: running is one of the world’s best, and most popular fitness exercises. Millions do it.
     But more people walk rather than run to help get or stay fit.
     Which is best?
     Runners will say running, and walkers will say walking. There is, in fact, little difference, between the potential fitness and health benefits of running or walking. So the answer to the question is subjective. It’s a matter of which is best for you, for your circumstances, your preference, and your enjoyment.
     The big advantage of running is that it can provide fitness benefits in much less time than walking. The big advantage of walking is that it avoids the high risk of injury experienced by runners.
     Those factors aside, the calorie burn calculator in my eXerlog ebook shows how running and walking can provide similar fitness benefits.
     Generally, the more energy you put into your exercise, the more you’ll benefit. The energy you use can be measured by the calories you burn.
     In the calorie burn calculator in eXerlog, you can punch in the figures for your weight, type of exercise, and duration, and my calculator can tell you that a 150-pound person running at 6 minutes per mile will burn 1,035 calories while running 10 miles in one hour. A 150-pound person walking at 3.5 miles per hour will cover 10.5 miles in three hours while burning 1,080 calories. So it takes a fast runner about one-third of the time to burn approximately as many calories as a moderately brisk walker. Somewhat slower runners might burn calories at twice rather than three-times as fast.
     As with all calorie calculators, the figures are approximate. Actual calories burned will vary with ambient temperature, individual metabolism, performance efficiency, and other factors. You’ll burn calories, and lose weight much faster with strenuous activity in hot, humid weather—although the risk of serious, even fatal injury might be great for anyone not in peak, athletic condition. Calgary Stampeder quarterback Henry Burris claims to have lost 10 pounds during a single football game played in hot, humid weather in Toronto in 2010.
     But while runner’s get there faster, they are far more prone to injuries.
     “Close to two-thirds of people who run—competitively and recreationally—are injured every year,” Connie Bryson reports in the Alberta online journal Research News. “Current treatments are effective for about 85% to 95% of runners. But the problem is that more than three-quarters of those people will have a reoccurrence of their injury. Many of them will go on to develop osteoarthritis.”
     “The long-term consequences of running injuries mean they can’t just be thought of as a nuisance anymore,” says Dr. Reed Ferber, assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary, and director of the Running Injury Clinic.
     “Dr. Ferber and his team use a specially-developed three-dimensional gait analysis system and other assessment tools to discover the biomechanical root cause of a running injury, which can then be corrected with proper therapeutic exercises,” Bryson reports. The technology has been installed at a Calgary sports clinic, and Dr. Ferber hopes to see it installed at 500 clinics during the next five years.
     Although rare, the ultimate risk of running is sudden death from heart attack, a risk that cast a pall over the sport for some time in the case of Jim Fixx. The author of the best-selling Complete Book of Running, Fixx has been credited with having helped start an American fitness revolution, popularizing running, and demonstrating the health benefits of regular jogging. In 1984, at age 52, Fixx died of a heart attack following his daily run in Vermont.
Aside from risk and the time element, personal preference would seem to be the most important factor in choosing between running and walking, or any other sport or fitness exercise.
     Runners enjoy the personal challenge their sport involves, especially competitive runners. “Runner’s high”—the euphoric state that has been compared to feeling high on drugs, and that is sometimes felt on long, arduous runs—might add to the enjoyment. The condition is also experienced in other sports, even hiking. When I was younger—a few decades ago—I occasionally experienced that runners’ high on long, solitary hikes in the Rockies. I was high, high in the Rockies.
     Walking also offers other attractions. When you walk you can exercise not only your body but also your mind, in a way that’s difficult to do when you’re running or jogging. When Adam Smith, the great Scottish professor of moral philosophy, took long, solitary walks through Glasgow, the result was The Wealth of Nations, surely one of the 10 most influential books ever written. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said that when he had a knotty legal case to consider, the best thing he could do was to go for a walk. Another prominent lawyer has said that an hour’s walk frequently does more good than a whole day spent in the law library. Walking has never failed to provide an answer for me whenever I have been faced with a problem, decision or task that needed thinking through. Most challenges have been simple one-mile problems while others end up as eight- or 10-mile problems.
     TAGS: Runners. Running injuries. Running Injury Clinic. Runners’ high. Walking. Calories. Calorie burn calculator. Jim Fixx. Complete Book of Running. Adam Smith. Wealth of Nations. William O. Douglas

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