A change in lifestyle means I have had to abandon my twice-weekly half-hour runs. However, I have introduced more walking into my commute to work and am covering around three miles a day five days a week. When it comes to maintaining fitness and losing weight, how does walking compare to running?
Exactly how the switch will affect you depends on several factors unique to you, including your current fitness level, age, how fast you used to run, whether you’ve made other lifestyle changes, and so on.
On the face of it, running burns more calories than walking because you expend more effort (so cover more distance) in less time. Your previous running régime might have been using up 300 calories in a 30-minute session, or 600 calories a week. Were you simply to replace running with walking, you would be using up about 150 calories – quite a big drop.
But if you are smart about it, you can make this a “win-win” switch. Five lots of exercise a week is better than two, and at three miles a day you are probably walking for about 45 minutes (at average pace). This is going to give you a rough calorie burn over the week of 550, which makes the gap look less of a problem – and you can do a lot better with a bit of effort and planning.
Start by timing the daily walk and aim to gradually reduce the time by learning to walk faster. “Fitness” or “power” walking requires a little practice to get used to, but once you have learnt the technique, it will boost your speed and effort level. The main differences from normal walking are in the way you drive your pace using your arms as pistons (bent at the elbow), use a bigger “heel-toe” action and slightly longer strides.
If you opt for power walking, try to think of your walk to and from work as an exercise session and treat it accordingly. Wear good training shoes, appropriate clothing and carry a well-fitting backpack to leave your hands and arms free. Drink water. Wearing a basic heart rate monitor will help you to stick to a walking pace that works your heart at 70 to 75 per cent of its maximum, which will guarantee you an excellent alternative workout to your running sessions.
Working at this kind of level could double your energy burn, giving you a weekly total of more like 1,100 calories. To boost this figure even further, include some hills or gradients in your route, add a bit of extra distance once you have speeded up your pace, and even add a bit more weight to your rucksack. All of these will up the calorie burn but without the repetitive impact problems of running that threaten joints, tendons and muscles.
For weight loss, the key as always is to ensure you don’t accidentally end up eating more because of the extra walking you are doing. Remember, it’s the gap you create between energy in and energy out that will make the difference.