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Running vs. walking: which is best for you?

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Statements I overheard at a New Year's Eve party:

"My goal is to run a 5k."
"My New Year's resolution is to run a half marathon."
"I just want to be able to run 2 minutes without wanting to throw up."

All of these goals are good. But each of these determined ladies absolutely hates running. So...why voluntarily pledge to do something you don't enjoy? Rather than forcing themselves to run, why not just make the decision to find an exercise program they would enjoy, and stick to that? Or simply resolve to MOVE more? Look, I'm a runner. I love the endorphins, love the wind on my face, love to feel like I'm sweating out bad decisions. But in my experience, if you hate running, your resolve isn't going to make it past February.

We're only a few days into 2017. It's not too late to make a renewed commitment to your health. If you want some new fitness goals, running is a great option, but it may not be the best option for you. There are all kinds of great aerobic workouts you can try. There are boot camp-style classes, cycling classes, swimming pools, exercise videos and apps.(Make sure to watch our work out from home instructional video here). And don't underestimate the power of good old-fashioned WALKING.

It all depends on your goals. Ginnie Emmott, exercise physiologist and supervisor of Folsom Fitness Center at Methodist Dallas, says "start with where you are. If you already have good cardiovascular endurance, you may be ready to pick up the pace. Walking and running are both good for your heart and lungs, plus they reduce the risk of illnesses such as diabetes and certain cancers. Both activities also strengthen bones because you're on your feet, using body weight."

Running typically burns more calories than walking, but any activity or intensity added to what you've already been doing will burn add to your overall calorie burn. Emmott says, "for example, if you have been walking consistently for 30 minutes a day, added intensity would be to power walk for 30 seconds and normal walk for 1 minute. If you desire to work on running, start with intervals (walk for 2 minutes, jog for 20 seconds) and gradually decrease your walk time. Likewise, if you have been inactive and you would call yourself a 'couch potato,' starting to walk 10 minutes a day will be beneficial."

Emmott cautions that running also puts more stress on the body and increases the risk for knee injuries, hamstring strains and shin splints, if you do too much too soon. "The risk of injury or discomfort is one reason some people choose to walk, instead of run, for fitness," she says.

According to The American Heart Association, walking reduces the risk of the same illnesses - heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancers. Walking can even produce some of the same endorphins as running. And walking is a low impact activity, so a speedy stroll could be more comfortable for you.

Emmott has some tips to make your walk a little tougher, so you can torch more calories.

  • Increase the incline. If you're walking on a treadmill, bump it up to 1% to increase the intensity, and to strengthen your legs and your rear end.
  • Walk outside. Bundle up, if needed, and walk on uneven terrains
  • At the gym - work an upper body routine! Ask a trainer to show you how to safely warm up and cool down, and do some shoulder presses, lateral raises, bent over rows and alternating punches.
  • Vary your routine - Download some fast-paced tunes to keep up the pace, take your dog to a new walking trail to mix up your scenery, or bring a friend to break up the monotony with lively conversation. All of these things are great ways to keep walking a routine part of your life, not just a resolution.

So, bottom line - running vs. walking - which is the winner? Both ways are great to stay in shape. It's up to you. The true winner is whichever workout keeps you moving consistently.

Methodist Health System is involved in two upcoming walking / running events. On January 20, Methodist Mansfield Medical Center presents Run with Heart, which includes a 5k, family fun run/walk, half marathon and marathon. And in February, Methodist Dallas is sponsoring Dash for the Beads in Oak Cliff. Whether you are walking or running, I hope to see you there!

Remember, it's always a good idea to check with a doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

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