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Walking for Life: An Alternative to Running
I used to admire my stepfather's dedication to his daily run. When I was growing up, he'd clock several miles before I even rolled out of bed. He'd return flushed with his “runner's high” and I'd wonder how he did it. I found running to be the purest form of torture and when not forced to trot during high school field hockey practice, I never moved faster than a humane 30-minute mile (walking of course).
Later in life I silently scoffed at the runners who passed me while I tottered along on roller blades or who breezed by even as I walked swiftly through the park. I was partially jealous of their robot-like ability to transcend pain and partially smug because I knew that if you looked past the sweatbands and $200 sneakers, the bulging quads and perfectly healthy resting heart rate, running wasn't actually good for you.
I wish I could bask in what is truly a deserved “I told you so,” but seeing the 66-year old patriarch of our family limping through the hallway with a four-legged walker somehow takes the fun out of self-satisfaction. After 25 years of running, my stepfather is now recovering from a full hip replacement surgery. Though it is a common procedure among the aging active set, the operation is significant requiring a week of recovery in the hospital and eight weeks of physical therapy. He's now got a brand new hip — ball and socket — as well as a card explaining why he beeps when he walks through airport security.
Of the runners I've encountered, not one seems to believe that there is an acceptable alternative to their sport. Well, there is: walking. Researchers are continuing to find evidence that a regular walking regimen can be just as, if not more effective than consistent running. It's really a question of time. Running for an hour will burn more calories than walking for an hour, but walking for a mile will burn more calories than running for a mile. “When you run a mile, you’re burning mostly sugar, or carbohydrates, which is how your body gives you fast energy in bursts. When you walk a mile, it gives your metabolism time to switch from burning carbohydrates to burning fat.” explains Dean Ornish, M.D. “The risk of injury — whether shin splints or knee injuries or back pain — is directly proportional to the intensity of exercise. So is the risk of sudden cardiac death. Walking gives you most of the health benefits of more intensive exercise while minimizing these risks.”
This month, the Annals of Internal Medicine found that walking three times a week can significantly improve overall walking ability and slow progression of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a painful leg condition that is the result of impaired blood flow in the arteries.
Need speed? Check out the competitive world of racewalking.
Are you a runner or a walker?