Getting your heart beating faster with a little (or a lot) of cardio every week helps you to get fitter, lose weight and feel great. And the great feeling has more to do with feel-good hormones that are produced as a result of the exercise than fitness or weight loss in themselves. But there’s more:
Prolong your life and good health
There are some less well-known reasons why you should make running or walking part of your regular routine:
- You could have as much as 35% less chance of heart-attack or stroke.
- Type 2 Diabetes is on the rise. Reduce your chances of developing this condition by up to 50%.
- Get moving and reduce your chance of getting colon cancer by as much as 50%.
- Ladies – good exercise can reduce the incidence of breast cancer by 20%.
- Early death is tragic – especially for those we leave behind. You have 30% less chance of an untimely demise if you exercise regularly.
- If you don’t use it, you lose it. Reduce your odds of developing osteoarthritis by 83%.
- It’s not just about stronger muscles. Your bone density also improves when you take care of your fitness – and the risk of a hip fracture is reduced by 68%.
- A healthy body promotes a healthy mind. You have 30% less chance of developing depression or dementia if you keep moving.
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Running or walking: which should you do?
There are no easy answers to this question. Your choice between running or walking will depend on factors such as your age, weight existing fitness level, overall health and goals. Most people choose one or more of the following goals:
- Improve fitness
- Tone muscles
- Lose weight
- Improve mobility (older people or those who are recovering from illness or injury)
Running gets your heart beating faster than walking does. It’s a much more intensive form of workout, and you’ll burn a lot more calories and give your muscles a much tougher workout in a shorter time. You’ll get much faster results, but not everybody should run.
When walking is better
- You’re unfit: Start with brisk walking before attempting a jog or a run.
- You’re very overweight: Extra weight places more strain on the joints and increases your chance of injury. Low impact exercise is the best way to start.
- You’ve had an injury to leg joints or muscles: Ease your way back into exercise. Toughen up your muscles with walking. Consult a doctor and discuss your fitness goals.
- You’re diabetic: Diabetics have to be particularly careful about exercise. A doctor or fitness professional should be consulted before you risk strenuous exercise.
- You have an existing heart condition: Exercise can be very good for you, but once again, you will need to see your doctor and discover just how intensively you can exercise.
- You’re running a temperature: Even walking can be too much of a strain when you have a cold or flu. Your body is already overheating, and you shouldn’t risk increasing your core temperature even more.
Running: How Far, How Fast?
There’s been quite a lot of debate regarding whether one should go for a long run or do interval training. Research indicates that the latter actually gives you better calorie burn and faster results than a prolonged run. The idea behind interval training is that you push yourself hard for a limited period of time, and then rest or reduce intensity before going for it again.
These ‘intervals’ can be really short. The father of interval training, Izumi Tabata found that athletes who went all-out for 20 seconds and then rested for 10 seconds before the next burst of energetic exercise got much better results than those who just plugged away at a moderate pace.
Once again, your goals are the deciding factor. If you want to run a marathon, then a long, endurance run is the best way to condition your body for the race, but running like this burns fat as well as muscle. If you’re hoping to lose weight, interval training is the best option since it keeps your metabolism burning fat. You’ll also be able to increase fitness and improve muscle tone.
Listen to your body
Exercise should take you out of your comfort zone, but there are limits to what you should do.
- Elevated heart-rate (you’ll be breathing hard and raising a sweat)
- A slight burning sensation in your muscles
- A situation in which you feel challenged but not overwhelmed
You don’t want:
- Feelings of nausea
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Sharp, stabbing pains in your muscles
You want to challenge yourself, but there comes a time when you’re doing more harm than good. Listen to your body and pace yourself accordingly.
Tips for a healthy run or walk
The mistake most people make is to allow themselves to become dehydrated. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, and you won’t get the best out of your exercise. And although you may be eager to burn calories, you also need energy to get a decent workout. Whether you are walking or running, observe these simple guidelines:
- Drink lots of water 20 minutes before you exercise and take a water-bottle along for frequent sipping.
- Don’t skip meals. Ideally, you should have three low carb, high protein meals a day and two snacks. This keeps your metabolism active and ready to burn fat while building muscle.
- Wear the right shoes: Reduce impact on your joints by choosing good running shoes, and ensure that you have a comfortable fit.
- Warm up: If you’re going to run, walk for a few minutes before you increase your pace. Just breaking into a run can cause muscle injuries.
- Don’t over train: It’s good to feel a little stiff the day after a workout, but your body needs a day or two to recover. Train four times a week and allow rest days in between. Doing more isn’t always better!
Running and walking – the good news
Unless you’re planning to run a marathon, you really don’t need a lot of time for your healthy exercise. 20 to 40 minutes should be ample, especially if you push yourself hard. When you consider all the benefits you’ll get, it’s well worth investing those few minutes for a more energetic, healthier and happier you.