Friday, April 5, 2013

Tortoise takes hare in health race

Runners set off on a mountain marathon.By the time it's over, walkers would have lost more calories and accrued more health benefits over the same period.

Interesting to read this morning that scientists in the US have found that walking has greater health benefits for the participant than running. As an ex runner who does a lot of walking, that's good to hear. Time was when the daily run became an almost obsessive ritual in my life. I would enter half marathons and pound those hard highways with a zealous determination, even after a hard day's work. Then I saw the light. Well...actually, my knees started to suffer from the pounding. 

Having a pretty awful natural gait, a sort of Donald Duck waddle, it naturally imposed stress on my joints. I've always walked and mountain bike occasionally so it was no big deal to just switch off the walking a concentrate on climbing, walking and M Biking. I must admit I don't miss running at all.

One of the things I've noticed in running is that it does attract a certain type fanatical devotee. Like a devout Catholic who comes to stay and asks where is the nearest Catholic Church as they have to attend Mass or face confession when they get home. The more fanatical of the running tribe will often inform you as soon as they arrive, that they will have to take their leave of your company for a few hours while they do their daily penance..sorry run.

It's an interesting phenomena though with the real hard case runners; and that's just how unhealthy they often look. Gaunt, wiry and with faces like tanned cow hide. I suppose it's all in the eye of the beholder and some might see this indicating a robust vigor and healthy constitution.  For me, well.. they just look like they would succumb to the first virus that blows their way. It's a well documented fact in mountain rescue that those who survive prolonged periods of exposure, are more likely to be carrying some excess weight. The first people to 'buy the farm' as they say in the States are those individuals who share the emaciated running zealots' physique.

According to the research by Dr Paul Wiilliams at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in California and published in the journal of the American Heart Association, walkers were twice as likely to reduce the risk of heart disease as runners and would lose more calories than their speeding brethren. Walkers were also nearly 50% less likely to suffer first time blood pressure than runners.

So...there you go. You can bin those overpriced New Balance trainers, ditch the nipple tape, put your lycra running top in the charity shop bag and dig your walking boots out of the garage. You know it will be good for you in the long run!

Sound advice from health pioneers-The Ventures


  1. I've always believed this in my bones. Interesting. What little running I did in my youth never left me feeling very good, and I've always maintained that fast walking in the hills is better in every way.

  2. I used to run to keep fit for the hills. Then I started having injuries and eventually stopped figuring that I loved the hills most and was going to end up having some problems. Looks like I got it right!

  3. An interesting blog, and some questionable science from the US study. Do walkers really use up more calories than runners for the same time period? A quick search and you'll find many studies that will show you the exact reverse. Which has me wondering about the other results you outlined. Some 'studies' find exactly what they wish to find, and prove exactly what they wish to prove...

    But what do the studies matter anyway? Why bother using a questionable study simply to prove that one activity is 'superior' to another.

    As an 'obsessive' runner (with a 40-50 mile a week 'habit'), and also as an ultra-obsessive backpacker/walker (with several thousand mile walks completed), I can find room in my life for both, without the need to bandy about clichés about either. To some people I may look gaunt, wiry, and emancipated, but regular running in the mountains brings a level of fulfillment and joy that I don't have room here to even begin to explain. Am I truly harming myself or others with my running? Why do people who don't run feel an urge to knock people that do run so often?

    I've been commanded to slow down in the hills more times than I can now say. The people that see me running make some quick judgment, decide I'm a foolish individual who has no idea how to appreciate, see, or 'feel' the high places, and obviously feels an urge to save me from myself. But what little imagination these people show!

    There is room in this world, and on the hills, for runners and walkers, and also for climbers, cavers, horse riders, bird watchers, and all other manner of past-time subsets ending in 'ers'. Not all of us runners are devout zealots... not all of us are simply training, or running purely to get fit; some of us run for pleasure, for the experience itself. And many of us runners walk too, and do many other things besides.

    Too many people these days like to judge and deride activities they don't partake in themselves. Please don't fall into that trap...

  4. Agreed,there are no reasons to stop running if you enjoy it and you feel it's having a positive impact on your health. What I would say is the Prof Williams' study only details the cardio vascular implications. More serious in my case is the damage that running can do to joints,muscles, tendons etc. I don't have evidence to hand but I have heard of fanatical runners suffering serious arthritic conditions in later life. Overall,my instinct is that walking has to be better for one's health than running.
    I would also add, most mountain walkers are walking to get somewhere,not to exercise their body. That's just a bonus. A lot of runners tackle their sport in a much more calculated and scientific way.

  5. It's true, many runners run simply to train. But from direct experience I can confirm that a great many more run because they like to run, because of the places their runs take them, because of the camaraderie they share with fellow runners, and because their runs leave them feeling good, happy, alive! And, just as most walkers walk for similar pleasures, there are fanatics out there who do it to tick lists, to cover as many miles as possible, and to boast about their achievements afterwards...

    On the injury side, runners do get injured. I'll grant you that running can stress the body more than walking. (Of course, stress applied in the right way, can make muscles and joints stronger too, can help them last longer.) But not all runners get injured, especially not if a runner takes a little care to consider 'how' they run. I have running friends who are running in their sixties, seventies and even in one notable case in his eighties, and have no joint issues. And I have ex-walker friends who have failed knees because of pounding up and down mountains in heavy boots beneath heavy packs, who blame their arthritis on walking too many miles in too much rain!

    Also worthy of consideration: do you have friends whose knees 'went' in their twenties, and suffered other health issues, because they never used their bodies at all? I know I do.

    Shall we use Joss Naylor as an example of evidence that running isn't necessarily bad for you?

    My point is: the differences between running and walking are negligible, if either activity is approached with just a little care and thought. Both are fine ways to travel. Both offer huge health benefits. Both can bring immense pleasure. Both benefit individuals and society far more positively than than the inactivity adopted by society in general.

    Neither activity is inherently superior, neither is worth belittling. So... just live and let live. Refrain from the 'you'need-to-do-as-I-do' demands. Your blog bordered on being an anti-running blog. I'm sure you're not an anti-running zealot, but that was why I responded.


  6. The reason walkers 'burn more calories' is they burn more fat. Runners burn the carbs they take on board during the run. In fact they do burn more calories but less from their body stores.