Should You Walk or Run to Lose Weight?

by Wellness Editor – MH

It’s hard to think of a more strenuous test of the body’s capabilities than running a marathon. Take the Chicago Marathon, for instance, which was first held in 1977 and occurs every October. Not surprisingly, it takes a participant quite a while to finish such a trek; the 2012 Chicago Marathon had an average finishing time of four hours and thirty-two minutes.

Training the body to run a marathon requires a great deal of patience and effort. Consequentially, you’ll have to look far and wide to find an overweight marathon runner. Of course, the reason for this is quite obvious; all of that running tends to burn off a lot of calories. For this reason, many people consider starting a regular running regiment in order to shed extra weight. While this can certainly be a good idea, novice runners should know a few things about the body before lacing up their running sneakers.  

Running Vs. Walking

A good number of people prefer a leisurely walk to an exhilarating run. Certainly, both forms of exercise can be good for your health, but which is a better method for losing weight? According to a study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), running appears to be the better bet. The LBNL published their findings in the April 2013 issue of the Medicine & Science in Sports journal, and drew their conclusions after observing 32,000 runners and 15,000 walkers over a six year span.

The LBNL researchers closely monitored each participant’s Body Mass Index (BMI) and recorded some interesting contrasts between the two groups.

  • At the beginning of the study, the runners had a lower BMI than the group of walkers. Specifically, the average male runner had a BMI of 24, whereas the average female runner’s BMI was 22. In contrast, the men and women who walked regularly had BMIs of 27 and 25, respectively. For adults, a BMI of 25 is generally at the low end of the threshold for being overweight.
  • The subjects who walked had a greater tendency to smoke. Curiously enough, they were also consumed more fruit than the runners.
  • The subjects who ran were significantly younger than their walking counterparts. The average age for a male runner was 48, whereas female runners averaged 41 years of age. Men and women who preferred walking had respective average ages of 62 and 53.

At the conclusion of the study, the adults who ran on regular basis lost more weight than those who opted to walk. Based on the data gathered by the study, a woman of average height and a BMI of 28 would benefit much more from running than by walking regularly. By running 3.2 miles per day, this woman would burn off an estimated 19 pounds, compared with only 9 pounds after expending the same amount of energy on walking.

One possible explanation for the runners’ better performance is the effect of running on the body’s metabolism, or the process by which the body converts food into energy. Relatively intense activities such as running increase the body’s metabolism, an effect that lasts for a while after the body ceases exercising. In turn, this helps the body burn off incoming calories at a faster clip.

A second reason is that running is a simply more efficient form of exercise than walking, burning off more calories in a shorter timeframe. For example, a woman fitting the same criteria as mentioned above (average height, BMI of 28) would need to walk 4.6 miles to match the effort used in a 3.2 mile run. In terms of total amount of time expended, such a walk would take roughly an hour and twenty minutes. A run of 3.2 miles should only take about 40 minutes.

Avoiding Some Running Potholes

Some people take up running as a hobby, only to find themselves dealing with stubbornly pudgy waistlines. These poor results can sometimes be attributed some mistakes and misconceptions on the part of the runner.

  • A good run doesn’t mean you can eat to your heart’s content throughout the day. Many runners with thin physiques prefer to eat small meals every three to four hours, as opposed to three huge meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another idea that could prove useful is to limit your consumption of calories immediately following a run. 150 calories could make for a reasonable limit.
  • It’s a lot easier to put on weight than to burn it off. Consider that in order to shed a pound per week from your total weight, you will need to cut about 500 calories from your daily intake. While running certainly expends calories, it may not burn off as many as you think. An adult weighting 150 pounds, for instance, will burn off roughly 180 calories by running at 5 miles per hour for 20 minutes. One or two 20 minute runs per week will simply not be enough to lose weight.
  • The human body gets used to a set running routine fairly quick. In fact, this applies to exercise regimens in general. This means that they body becomes more efficient in using calories to meet the demands of your workout. By running the same distance at the same speed for each run, the amount of calories used by the body will steadily decline and eventually plateau. One tactic that can prevent this problem is interval training, in which bursts of intense exercise are alternated with periods of lighter activities. For instance, a runner could switch between running and slower-paced jogging. Another idea is to try to take on more taxing surfaces like hills, which require more effort and calories to climb.

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