Charlie's Blog: 2 Recent Articles Related To Walking


2 Recent Articles Related To Walking

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, personal trainer, or healthcare professional. These are just my opinions. Consult a physician before starting any exercise program.

The vogue for counting steps springs from a work ethic gone wild, a need always to be meeting goals.

I recently read two articles related to walking that pertain to points I have made here at the C-Blog. The first deals with fitness trackers. The second deals with the debate about walking vs. running.

Confession of a Failed Steps Fanatic

I came across this article in the dead tree version of the Wall Street Journal. I figured it would be behind the paywall on the internet, but I was fortunate to find this version for free on the MSN website. The gist of the article deals with the obsessive/compulsive nature of using pedometer devices like the FitBit. Here is a great quotation from the piece:

The vogue for step counting seems to spring from our obsession with productivity, our work ethic gone wild, our need to be always accomplishing and meeting goals, or else we are lost, adrift. (The apotheosis of this impulse to maximize efficiency is probably the treadmill desk.) It may also be that unlike global warming, political chaos, pandemics, wildfires, disease and the inevitable deterioration of our own bodies, steps are one thing we can control.

The keyword here is obsession. I don't think Thoreau walked with this kind of obsession, and I can't picture him ever wearing a FitBit. I understand that having an obsessive-compulsive disorder is a great motivator for walking fitness, and this may be the only way some people will ever get out the door. But I think it takes much of the joy out of walking and life.

I walk with a Casio G-Shock with a timer that beeps. I use this watch to let me know when to go back inside. Otherwise, my daydreams would keep me outside longer than I need to be. I don't quantify my walks except that I did my walk for the day. I do not keep a log of my walking or post my stats to the Strava website. This is because I do not want to feed that quantitative side of me that leads to comparisons with others or doing dangerous things like walking in a lightning storm to get my steps in. I am not a steps fanatic.

Is running better than walking? New research says yes
You can finally conclusively win those arguments with your non-running buddies

This article is in the Canadian Running Magazine and references research featured in The New York Times. The gist of the article is that running gives greater fitness benefits than walking. I have already given my opinions on the topic here.

Why is there a giddy reaction over this research which says nothing new while leaving a lot of stuff unsaid? As the article puts it, "Here’s what you need to know to win all the walking vs. running debates with your friends." I am unaware of these debates mainly because I don't have any running friends. I do have many walking friends, and they do not care about runners.

The reason a running magazine would trumpet this research is no mystery. Running magazines sell the activity of running and related products and services. Anything that boosts running matters to their bottom line. Anything that undermines running (like walking) is not going to see publication in the magazine. The fact they even mentioned walking at all tells me the editors of this magazine must be worried and concerned.

Here are some facts that I do not dispute. Generally, an hour of running burns more calories than walking. It also burns more calories than cycling or swimming. Running, cycling, and swimming all burn more calories than walking. And what beats running? High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT burns more calories than running while also boosting endurance and strength. I won't even go into the calorie burn of sprinting, rock climbing, stair climbing, and on and on. The bottom line is that walking is definitely on the gentle side of the exercise menu. This is the reason I enjoy it so much.

What makes running so awful are the injuries. This part gets no mention in the article. That is the real debate here. I would rather walk an hour each day and do it again the next day than run for half an hour and hope to be healed up enough from whatever injuries I encounter to do it again the following week. The high injury rate among runners is undisputed.

This bring us to the longevity argument. The article claims that running boosts VO2 max which is a marker for fitness and longevity. As the article states, "VO2 max, a measurement of how much oxygen your body uses during regular exercise, is a helpful standard for assessing fitness and predicting life span." The keyword here is predicting.

The reality is that research shows otherwise. CBS News had an article entitled Too much running tied to shorter lifespan, studies find, which stated, "The researchers behind the newest study on the issue say people who get either no exercise or high-mileage runners both tend to have shorter lifespans than moderate runners." Basically, the high mileage runner lives about as long as the couch potato. The recommendation is for moderate running.

What is moderate running? The CBS article says, "In O'Keefe's view, the 'sweet spot' for jogging for health benefits is a slow to moderate pace, about two or three times per week, for a total of one to 2.5 hours." That does not sound like a ringing endorsement for running. The irony is that Canadian Running referenced this article that said the same thing as the CBS article but puts a more positive spin on it. At this point, you start to suspect that someone is fibbing on this information.

I will tell you what I think is the truth here in this research. Running high mileage at a fast pace will shorten your life. I think this is because of the sustained stress placed on the heart. I am not a doctor or a scientist, but the literature on the subject indicates to me that this is the case. The slow and infrequent jogger is probably safe from this risk.

The real debate comes down to slow jogging versus fast walking. Jogging seems to offer increased cardiovascular benefit at the cost of increased injury. Power walking seems to offer almost as much cardio benefit but without injury. Additionally, increased steps results in increased fitness.

My bottom line is that running in all its forms, durations, and intensities is not worth the injuries. The better way is to walk with a preference for duration and intensity. All things considered, a long brisk walk beats a slow jog. I suspect the editors at Canadian Running already know this.