To Benefit More from Exercise, Pick up Your Pace

Regular exercisers know that physical activity brings countless benefits, from looking and feeling your best to longevity and lowering your chances of certain illnesses. But if your workouts tend to be more laid back than rigorous, you may want to add some intensity: research shows that running might have certain benefits over walking.

According to recent research, older adults who run are able to maintain their fitness more effectively than older adults who walk for exercise. To measure fitness among older individuals, researchers compared a group of 15 walkers between the ages of 66 and 72 with a group of 15 runners between 64 and 74. All participants did their activity (running or walking) for at least 30 minutes three times per week. Researchers used “walking economy”—the rate at which a person consumes oxygen per distance walked—to measure fitness in all participants. They compared walking economy between walkers and runners in this study and with younger and older adults from another study who did not exercise.

Older people who ran had better walking economy than those who walked, which put them in a similar range for walking economy as young sedentary adults. Those who walked had similar walking economy as older adults who were sedentary and worse walking economy than young adults. In other words, the higher-intensity activity actually turned back the fitness clock for older runners, whereas walking alone did not appear to improve walking economy.

Walkers need not be discouraged. This research looks at just one aspect of health and fitness: walking economy. And while this is an important measure of the effects of exercise and our ability to move, there is plenty of good that cannot be tracked by this scale (mood boosting is just one important example of countless benefits of activity).

If you are physically capable of picking up the pace, however, you can get even more out of your workout. Just be careful not to jump into a higher-intensity routine without making sure you’re ready for the added effort. Consult your doctor first and consider talking to a certified personal trainer about how to safely step up your exercise program.

—Mia James


Ortega JD, Beck ON, Roby JM, Turney AL, Kram R. Running for exercise mitigates age related deterioration of walking economy. PLOS One. 2014;9(11):e113471. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113471.