Walking is among the most popular forms of exercise in the world and far most loved in the United States. And for good reason: it’s simple, affordable and effective. Regular walking reduces the risk of many health problems, including anxiety, depression, diabetes and others cancers.
However, once your body gets used to walking, you may want to pick up the pace, said Alyssa Olenick, an exercise physiologist and postdoctoral researcher in the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
If you can squeeze even part of your walk into a run, that is offers many of the same physical and psychic used in a much shorter time. But how much better is running? And how to turn your walk into a run?
Why walking is good for you
When considering the health benefits of activities like walking or running, there are two related factors to keep in mind. One is the effect of exercise on your fitness — that is, how it improves the efficiency of your heart and lungs. The other is the ultimate positive outcome: Does it help you live longer?
Tea The gold standard for ability assessment VO2 max, a measure of how much oxygen your body uses when you exercise intensely. She is also strong predictor lifetime, said Dr. Allison Zielinski, a sports cardiologist at the Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute.
Even a small amount of activity—like taking slow steps throughout the day—improves VO2 max somewhat compared to standing still sedentary, according to a 2021 study of 2,000 middle-aged men and women. But the bigger benefits come when you start walking fasterwhich speeds up your heart rate and breathing.
If you work hard enough that you can still talk but not sing, you’ve gone from light to moderate physical activity. Studies suggest that moderate activity strengthens your heart and creates new mitochondriathat produce fuel for your muscles, Dr. Olenick said.
Which makes running even better
So how does running compare to walking? It’s more efficient, for one thing, said Duck-chul Lee, a professor of physical activity epidemiology at Iowa State University.
Why? It’s more than just increased speed. Instead of lifting one leg at a time, running involves a series of jumps. This requires more strength, energy and power than walking, Dr. Olenick said. For many people just starting out, running at any pace—even a slow jog—will get your heart and lungs pumping. This can increase your effort level to what’s known as vigorous activity, meaning you’re breathing hard enough that you can only say a few words at a time.
Federal health guidelines we recommend 150 minutes to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or half that for vigorous activity. This might suggest that running is twice as good as walking. But when it comes to the key outcome of longevity, some studies have found that running is even more effective than that.
In 2011, researchers in Taiwan asked more than 400,000 adults how much vigorous exercise (like running or jogging) and moderate exercise (like brisk walking) they do. They found that regular five-minute runs extend the lifespan of subjects as much as 15-minute walks. A regular 25-minute run and 105-minute walk resulted in a 35 percent lower risk of death over the next eight years.
Those numbers make sense given the effect of running on fitness. In one 2014 study, Dr. Lee and his colleagues found that regular runners—including those running slower than 6 miles per hour—were 30 percent fitter than walkers and sedentary people. They also had a 30 percent lower risk of dying in the next 15 years.
Although he is an enthusiastic advocate of running, Dr. Lee suggested that walking and running should be viewed as a continuum. “The greatest benefit occurs when you go from nothing to little,” he said.
Whether you’re walking or running, consistency is key. But after that, adding at least a little vigorous exercise to your routine will increase the benefits.
How to start walking and then running
Running has its downsides. It is a strong influence and hard on your connective tissue.
They are researchers myths exposed that run I always will break the knees, but short-term injuries are more common in runners but walkers. Ease into walking allows your body time to adjust, which in turn lowers your risk, said Dr. Bella Mehta, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
In fact, even seasoned runners who rest should gradually build back up. “It’s always better to start or increase an exercise program by going slow and low,” said Dr. Zielinski.
If you want to try running for the first time – or get back into it – try this progression.
Step 1: Add steps.
Increase your steps, Dr. Lee said. If you haven’t been exercising at all, try walking an extra 3,000 steps a day, at least a few days a week.
Step 2: Slowly pick up the pace.
Set aside 10 minutes for brisk walking three to four times a week, Dr. Olenick said. Aim for an exertion level of three to five on a scale of 10. Gradually increase the duration until you can stay on your feet for an hour.
Step 3: Sprinkle on the run.
As you get fitter, you’ll notice that you need to walk even faster to achieve a moderate intensity. When that happens—usually after about a month or two—start adding running and walking intervals. Warm up with a brisk five-minute walk. Then alternate one minute of running with three minutes of walking. Repeat this three to five times.
Step 4: Try running continuously.
Every week or two, increase the running interval and decrease the walking time, until you start running continuously.
Check with your doctor first if you’re being treated for heart disease or another chronic condition, or if you have symptoms like chest pain, Dr. Zielinski said. You may need to undergo a stress test or other assessment before you are cleared for vigorous activity.
Those who can’t (or don’t want to) run can up the intensity in other ways, Dr. Olenick said. For example, add a few hills to your walking route and pick up the pace as you climb them. You could jump to a trampoline or try a HIIT workout, we land or in swimming pool.
The best thing to do is mix it up – brisk walking or other moderate-intensity exercise on some days, vigorous exercise on others, taking more steps on days you can’t squeeze in a workout.
“Take a little bit of everything” every week if you can, Dr. Olenick said. “It all adds up.”
Cindy Kuzma is a journalist in Chicago and co-author of Breakthrough Women’s Running: Dream Big and Train Smart.