Charlie's Blog: Walking Is Better Than Running


Walking Is Better Than Running

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.

I am not a doctor or any sort of exercise expert. This essay is merely my opinion as a nobody in the medical and physical fitness worlds. Finally, you should consult a physician before beginning any exercise program. I have to put that there because idiots will go out and have a coronary event while exercising and want to sue someone over it. You've been warned.

There are many forms of cardiovascular exercise. You can ride a bike either on the road or a stationary version in a gym. There are the rowing machines and the stair climber machines. There is the pool for the swimmers. There is cross country skiing if you can find the snow. But the most popular form of cardiovascular exercise in our time has to be long distance running.

The reason running is popular is obvious. It is free. You put on shoes and running clothes and go outside. That's it. From there, you can run to modest goals like losing weight or bigger goals like completing a marathon or an ultramarathon. Running has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, it has one gigantic drawback. Running is an activity filled with various and chronic injuries.

Runners reading this may jump on the defensive, but this is an argument they are going to lose. Pick up a copy of a running magazine, and you are guaranteed to have an article about an injury, preventing an injury, treating an injury, or buying a particular shoe or other product that may help you with an injury. Additionally, you will read some heartbreaking article about some professional runner who had to pull out of a race because of an injury or is trying heroically to come back from an injury.

Injuries are common to runners. You get the clue when you see so many podiatry and orthopedic clinics sponsoring road races. They know their customer base. For a free sport, it sure ends up costing a lot of dough in medical expenses and equipment to deal with all of those injuries. I recall one ultrarunner who lost a year in dealing with Haglund's deformities on both heels that required surgery and rehab. He is a professional ultrarunner, so I assume he has good health insurance. I just know that most people don't.

That is the irony of running. It improves your cardiovascular health at the expense of your knees, hips, back, and on and on. There are studies that suggest that runners can run a lifetime without serious injury, but I think those studies suffer from survivorship bias. This is because seriously injured people wise up and quit running. There are 90-year-old smokers, so it is no surprise that there are 90-year-old runners.

The reality is that running is an activity of the chronically injured. Running is what you do between lying on the couch for days or weeks recovering from running injuries. Many have tried to cure this injury problem. For awhile, running barefoot or in minimalist footwear was offered as a solution, but this fad suffered a mortal wound when the biggest proponent of barefoot running was revealed to be hiding his own injuries. The minimalist argument is that running barefoot or in minimalist footwear requires an adjustment period. I can't speak on that except anecdotally. I just recall another ultrarunner who ran in minimalist shoes who now runs in conventional shoes after a long time away from the sport battling injuries.

There are those who take the opposite extreme who run in maximalist footwear that resemble marshmallows that you put on your feet. These cushy shoes promise a sweet ride that is injury free. The reality is that the injuries move up the leg to the knees and the hips.

With all of the frustration over running injuries, the advice for injuries is some variation of the same formula--stop running. This may be cutting back, taking a rest, or doing cross training. Regardless, the one sure cure for running injuries is to stop running.

Fortunately, there is a cardiovascular exercise that offers most of the same benefits of running but without the high injury rate. This exercise is walking.

Walking is better than running. The injury rate is much lower. It is more pleasant. It gives greater peace of mind. You don't need special clothes to walk. You can do it anytime almost anywhere. And almost anyone can do it. The only thing running has on walking is that running burns more calories in a shorter time period. I think this is an acceptable trade off to avoid the injuries of running.

Walking is an underrated exercise. It doesn't get promoted because there's not much money to be made from walking. Walking shoes last longer than running shoes, so there's not a huge market there. The ones who do promote walking are health insurance companies wanting to save on healthcare expenses. That should be a big clue about the value of walking.

Speaking from personal experience, I used to run when I was younger, but I ended up hurting myself. I have had sciatica, plantar fasciitis, ITB syndrome, shin splints, knee issues, and Achilles tendonitis resulting in a lump on the back of my right heel which is there to the present day. That lump is why I threw in the towel on running as exercise.

I walk now. I have experienced no injuries from walking since I started doing it a year ago as rehab in my physical therapy. Walking has helped me tremendously. I can't recommend it enough. Conversely, I see running as utterly stupid, and I don't recommend it.

Sometime in the seventies, running was sold as good exercise. It was a fad for the time, but it has persisted for some odd reason. I think its persistence comes from the combination of two factors. The first is the low barrier of entry to running which entices beginners, and the second is the money that is made from those beginners as they start getting injured. Running gets promoted while walking doesn't. So, this is how you get thousands running marathons each year, but they fight for the closest parking space at the grocery store.

There is also no vanity in being a walker. Walking is something old folks do at the mall. Runners take pride in running as evidenced by all of those races and finisher's medals. Walking is humble. That humility has inspired a saying I tell myself each day. The gentle path is the certain path.

I enjoy walking. I can't say the same for running. I hated running and still hate it. Running is more about masochism than health and fitness. And I find that the most enthusiastic promoters of walking are ex-runners who got tired of the injuries.

Walking is better than running. If you are one of those rare types who can run without pain and injury, continue running. Just don't sell me on it anymore because I'm not buying it.