Why You Should Walk, Not Run

Although controversial and disappointing for some, running isn’t appropriate for everyone.  As a physical therapist and runner, I understand why some people cannot and should not take up running as a form of exercise.  Not all bodies are built to run. An existing injury may make it unsafe to run on a regular basis. If you can’t run, don’t worry about it! Many other forms of exercise without repeated impact can help us to keep fit. Walking is a wonderful method of exercise.  Out of all the possible movements we can perform, we’re best at walking!  Walking daily can reduce stress, improve circulation and hormone regulation as well as benefit your overall well-being.


There are many wonderful methods to stay fit and improve your cardiovascular system, but running may not be the best choice for you if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Certain Forms of Arthritis – There are 171 different kinds of arthritis. Although causes and presentations vary, the most common form is osteoarthritis (OA). You can still run if you have OA, but you may choose not to if you are symptomatic (experiencing pain). Running would be ill-advised for those with other types of arthritis such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The risk of joint injury during repetitive impact based activity (like running) is too high. For more information specifically on RA, please refer to Q & A: Exercises Beneficial in Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis.
  • Joint Replacement – As America’s population continues to age, total joint replacement has become an increasingly more popular method to treat pain and arthritis in joints. The procedures continue to improve and evolve. Although you may be capable of running after a total joint replacement, I don’t recommend it. Running on a total joint replacement, particularly in the knee or ankle, increases the likelihood that the replacement will wear out and/or fail prematurely. If you have had a total joint replacement, I recommend a less impactful method of cardiovascular exercise.
  • Morbid Obesity – Running can be an excellent form of exercise and a wonderful method to help one reach his/her desired weight. However, running may not be the safest choice initially if you are morbidly obese. Morbid obesity is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 40 or having more than 100 lbs. of body weight. Running with excessive body weight increases your risk of injury and permanent damage to joints throughout the body. Initially, pursue non-impact activities. As your weight decreases, you may choose to participate in a running program.
  • Recent Medical Procedures or Injury – The inability to run can be temporary. Often after a medical procedure, physicians will advise not to run or participate in overly strenuous exercise during recovery. The list of possible conditions is long, so refer to your physician and physical therapist regarding when to avoid activity. Once you have sufficiently healed, you can taper back into your prior level of activity or even progress into a new activity. Your physician or physical therapist can offer advice on how to safely resume your activities.
  • Severe Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is the weakening of the bones. Running is not contraindicated for all forms of osteoporosis, but it is for severe cases. In mild cases, the repeated impact during running can be beneficial to bone formation if the mileage or time spent on your legs isn’t excessive. In severe cases, running increases your risk of fractures. Initially, the best course of treatment, besides dietary modification, would be weight bearing activities such as weight training and walking.

The key is to rule out possible issues which may make running unsafe.  Being well informed initially allows you to tailor an exercise program which can be safe and effective in maximizing your particular goals and needs. For a more thorough discussion on the safety of running, please refer to Is Running Safe? In most cases, running is safe with proper training and a strong focus on technique.

What are the benefits of walking?

  • Improves circulation and blood flow to the entire body.
  • Releases stress reducing hormones.
  • Releases hormones that can control blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours.
  • Burns calories.
  • Helps to prevent constipation.
  • Walking in a fasted state can help your body to learn how to utilize fat more efficiently as an energy source.
  • We are naturally good at walking. Do it daily!
  • It is a weight bearing activity that can be beneficial in reducing osteoporosis.
  • Keeps the spine healthy. The walking motion is vital to nutrient exchange in the spinal discs.

Choose walking as an intentional exercise, and add it to your daily activities as part of a healthy lifestyle.  To increase the amount of calories burned during a walk, you may need to make a few changes to your morning or evening stroll.  Don’t walk at your preferred speed.  The trick is to make your body inefficient by walking slower, faster, uphill, downhill, or at varying speeds.  Perform a high intensity workout by walking uphill briskly or using the Fartlek method.

Nordic walking, which utilizes walking poles that can help to stabilize you if your balance is poor, is also very popular. The use of walking poles can reduce stress from your back and lower extremity joints, increase your body strength, and burn more calories than traditional walking!

Do you prefer to walk or run? What might be holding you back from participating in an exercise program? I encourage you to get started now by walking. You may be surprised how quickly you see results! Please leave your comments below.

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