If I switch from run to walk, can I stay fit?

Jane mugshot for JQAA 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.

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