Walk or run?

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If I told you there's one thing you could do to have better health, without taking pills or other medical interventions, and that you could do it in 30 minutes a day, would you do it?

You might, if I told you that the average adult who watches five hours of TV a day runs the risk of losing five years of their life simply from sheer inactivity.

To ensure you keep those years of life, take 30 minutes every day and go walking or running. You'll turn a sedentary lifestyle into an active one where you have better cardio-fitness and all-round better health.

Compared to other activities, walking and running are inexpensive, require little equipment, can be done anywhere at any time and are things you've been doing since you were a toddler.

The only real question is which activity is best for you, running or walking?

Running, of course, is much more intense and offers greater health benefits in a shorter period of time, which makes it ideal for those with limited time to exercise. With training, your short jog around the block can be changed into cross-country running or even marathons.

You probably already go for walks, with the kids, with the dogs, from the bus to your workplace. However, for those who want to take walking to the next level, you need to increase your intensity, which can be accomplished by increasing your distance, varying the terrain or using walking poles.

Both running and walking have great health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, decreasing risk for chronic disease and managing weight. Because running is higher impact, it does carry a higher risk of injury than walking. Common running injuries include tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and patellofemoral syndrome, all of which can be caused by improper footwear, poor technique and overuse.

In order to get the most out of your activity, here's what you need to know before you start.

The first thing is to get the right equipment: a good pair of shoes. Shoes may look similar on the outside; however, shoes designed for walking and running offer different support and cushioning on the inside. If you are unsure what shoe is right for you or if you are planning to use your shoes for more than one activity, speak with a knowledgeable sales person at stores that specialize in shoes, such as Canadian Footwear or Stride Ahead. The proper fit and support will help to keep you comfortable and avoid unnecessary injuries.

If you don't feel confident starting on your own, there are classes and clubs you can join, as well as how-to books and online programs. If you are a true beginner, nothing can replace the experience you will get with a real coach. Joining a walking or running club may carry a small additional cost, but having a coach to answer questions and provide feedback is worth it.

Most beginner classes increase your stamina by having you do interval training, which means you alternate slower and faster paces. The idea is to build your muscular endurance, and strengthen your heart and lungs. Beginner classes also cover avoiding risks, warming up and cooling down, stretching and a healthy diet and proper hydration.

Once you are up and running, you may want to join some of the great events scheduled for this spring and summer. The Manitoba Marathon has something for everyone. I would suggest the Super Run to get started. At 2.6 miles (just over 4 km), it is the perfect distance for a novice.

If you are looking for something a bit more challenging, the marathon has both a relay and 10 km option. The relay is a team event made up of four or five members who each complete one leg of the marathon route. The legs vary in distance from 7 to 9.75 kilometres.

For me, I pick walking over running. I enjoy the pace, the social aspect and the fact that it is lower impact. But, both running and walking are great activities, so which one you choose is up to you. By selecting an activity that is comfortable and progressing slowly, you will increase your enjoyment and confidence and be on your way to a healthy, active lifestyle.

Amy Tibbs is a co-ordinator with Winnipeg in motion.

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