EXERCISE: MODERATION IS KEY

Sports Woman's legs in running movement

Is walking really better than running? Based on recent headlines, it would seem to be. I’ve seen some articles on this topic online that make that claim. But while it makes for an eye-catching headline, that claim may not be quite right. The real story is a little more complex than that.

Some studies suggest that running may not be good for your health. But these studies are talking about running at a fast pace or at a high intensity day after day. Other studies have found that walking briskly or jogging/running at an average pace may help you live longer. Data from the Copenhagen City Heart Study showed those who jog on a regular basis may live longer than those who don’t. Men who jogged lived about 6 years more than those who didn’t. Women who jogged lived about 5 years more.

A closer look at the data shows how exercise and life span are related. Not exercising enough was linked to a shorter life span. So was exercising too much or too hard. But exercising in a moderate way for a moderate amount of time was linked to a longer life span. Researchers found that 1 to 2.5 hours of jogging/running at a slow to average pace 2 to 3 times a week led to the best health benefits.

To put this into perspective: “The relationship appears much like alcohol intakes. Mortality is lower in people reporting moderate jogging, than in non-joggers or those undertaking extreme levels of exercise,” said Schnohr, the lead author on the study. How do you know if you’re exercising hard enough, but not too hard? “You should aim to feel a little breathless, but not very breathless,” he advised.

Exercising at a moderate level has many health benefits. It can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It can also help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. And it’s a great way to manage your weight. It can also lead to improved:

  • Oxygen uptake
  • Cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Heart, lung, and brain function
  • Bone density and immune function
  • Mental health

This Copenhagen City Heart Study data did draw many comments in response to the results. Other researchers appear to have found different results. For instance, a 2013 study tested whether moderate-intensity exercise (e.g., walking) and high-intensity exercise (e.g., running) provided equal health benefits. Authors found that moderate- and high-intensity exercise produced similar results. Both resulted in lower risk for the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease

These results from the 2013 study suggest that exercise is good, no matter what the intensity. But those who ran got more than double the amount of exercise of those who walked. And more exercise led to lower risk factors. That suggests that high-intensity exercise may produce greater health benefits. This may sound as if it contradicts the previous study. But, in fact, the high-intensity exercise in this study was not limited to running at a fast pace each and every day. It included jogging/running at a moderate pace.

The bottom line is that exercise is good—so just move! If you choose to do high-intensity exercise often, make sure to give your body a rest now and then. Bodies need time to recover. And mix in some lower-intensity exercise and strength training. Also, make sure to start exercising slowly if you have not exercised much before. And progress in a reasonable way. Bumping up mileage or duration or pace too quickly is not wise. Lastly, moderation is key for anything in life.