Keeping fit: walking or running?

This article is edited by Professor Diana Tomasi, Professor of Exercise and Sports Sciences, for over 30 years, at the Liceo G. B. Quadri in Vicenza and Head of the middle distance sector of Athletics Vicentina.

A study that appeared in Nature a few years ago reported a work by Dennis Bramble (Utah University biologist) and Daniel Lieberman (Harvard University anthropologist) on the importance that running has had in the evolution of human anatomy. Even more than walking, running characterizes man, who has developed this ability thanks to the differentiation between hands and feet: the big toe, which in arboreal monkeys is opposable and also allows a prehensile function, in man has over time aligned itself with the other fingers, favoring the running action.

The buttocks have also developed and by connecting the femur to the trunk they have allowed, especially with the gluteus maximus, to have powerful muscles in the service of running. In short, the anatomical characters useful for running (ability to absorb impact with the ground, ability to maintain balance, adequate thermoregulation) have developed over millions of years to allow man essentially two things: chase prey and capture them thanks to the greater resistance that the group of hunters could put in the field with respect to certain prey and escape from other predators, crossing dangerous areas at a running pace to reduce the time of exposure to the risk of attacks.

Therefore, compared to other primates, man has some distinctive features (elongated Achilles tendon, developed gluteus maximus, elongated chest and lowered shoulders with a connection via the trapezius to the head, thus giving up the robust muscular connections between thorax, neck and head that were functional to tree climbing …) which favor walking and especially running. Because one of the ways to keep fit is to take time to do some brisk walking or – if there are no contraindications or limitations – even running sessions.

Running, as is intuitive, is an activity that burns more calories than brisk walking, also because it activates large muscles (for example the gluteus maximus mentioned above) that consume a lot of energy with their work.

The choice of whether to go for a run or go to “march” (in this case not intended as a discipline of athletics but as a brisk walk, at least at a pace of 6 km per hour) is therefore subjective, and depends on many factors : age, state of form, any knee / ankle / hip problems that inhibit or discourage intense training, heart condition, etc.

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Let’s go to practical tips. Assuming you are poorly trained and want to invest time (which is always well spent) to improve your fitness, the advice is to proceed step by step: we start with walks of 4/5 kilometers to be carried out in possibly oxygenated environments (parks , countryside) and in any case away from traffic. If we have an hour of time from the second week, we increase the speed in order to be able to travel at least 6 km in our hour dedicated to fitness within a month. If we do not feel joint pain or muscle fatigue after the first month, we can introduce, every other day, a small 10-minute jog, to be done at the center of our walk. From week to week we increase the time dedicated to running (decreasing that of brisk walking) to get to run all the hour we have available within another two months. The important thing is to listen to your body, both to understand the state of the joints and to understand if you are running without contracting oxygen debt. If you feel pain (ankle, knee, hip) or slight contractures in the leg muscles it is good to stop running and walking again. If you have a heart rate monitor, set it so that it warns us when certain heart rate thresholds are exceeded (these are thresholds that tend to drop with increasing age): remember that if you can speak or hum without breathlessness it means that you are running within the minimum aerobic threshold.

We take advantage of the summer for our walks / runs outdoors, while during the winter season a good treadmill could be the ally that helps us in our goal. Stay fit to live more and above all live better.