How to Enjoy the Benefits of Walking & Running

trail sign
Photo courtesy of Esther Max via Flickr.

PART OF OUR HOME EXERCISE SERIES

A fantastic option for fighting cabin fever is to get outside and exercise. Walking and running are workouts that almost everyone can do, at any time, and in any place, and most people already have all the equipment they need: a good pair of shoes. Walk around your neighborhood, a nearby park, a hiking trail, a running track at the local school or even walk to the store instead of driving.

The CDC advises anyone who is sick or thinks they might be sick to stay home and indoors (1), but for those of us who are feeling well, getting outside is still a great option. Both the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security agree: outdoor exercise is safe as long as 6-foot social distancing is practiced (2). Good news is that nature is rarely considered a “crowded public area.”

Breast Cancer Benefits of Walking & Running

Exercise in general, has the amazing health benefits of reducing your chance of obesity as well as estrogen and stress levels, all which play a role in reducing your overall risk of breast cancer. What’s great is that even mild exercise lowers your risk.

Walking and running, in particular, also have breast health benefits. A 2014 study showed that breast cancer survivors who started a running program had a lower mortality rate than those who did not run (3). “Chemo-brain,” the cognitive decline experienced by many chemotherapy patients, may also be improved by a 12-week walking routine, reported a 2013 study (4). And according to a study in Archives of Internal Medicine, post-menopausal women who practiced brisk walking for an average of 1 hour per day had a 15% lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who walked less (5).

What’s more, outdoor exercisers get a bonus breast cancer benefit that comes directly from the sunshine: Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is strongly linked to breast cancer occurrence and according to a 2019 study in Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, “increasing [vitamin D through] sunlight exposure may be a more effective way to prevent breast cancer than diet or supplements” (6).

How Many Steps A Day?

According to a 2017 Stanford University study, Americans walk an average of 4,774 steps a day (7), but most believe 10,000 steps should be the target. That leaves many of us feeling out of shape and dispirited. The real truth is that 10,000 steps is an arbitrary goal created by a pedometer company in the 1960s (8). The only thing that health experts seem to agree on is that more steps is better, so your best bet is to set your own walking and running goals to keep yourself challenged and make it fun. If you like the idea of using a pedometer, check what your regular step count is before starting a program and then shoot for a thousand more, increasing your goal on a regular basis.

Couch to 5k Plans & Marathons

The goal of “running a marathon” always seems to find its way on the bucket list of Americans. If that sounds like you, now’s the perfect time to dust off that dream. Get your runners high and check out any of the “couch to 5k” or “couch to marathon” training programs out there. Active.com make a great Couch to 5k app and the UK’s National Health System (NHS) also has an online follow-along 9-week plan available online or in their app.

Walking & Running Apps

While the phrase “there’s an app for that,” seems a bit overused at this point, in the case of running and walking apps, it’s most definitely appropriate (and plural), with dozens of high-quality apps that will lead veterans and beginners alike through a dizzying variety of programs.

MapMyWalk and MapMyRun are popular apps that help both runners and walkers map routes, determine mileage, cadence and calories burned. Also check out the Peloton app, currently free for 90-days, which offers running workouts that integrate with Apple watches. If you’re tracking steps, the Apple iPhone comes pre-loaded with the free Health app that tracks steps.

The Bottom Line

Walking and running have an incredible amount of both general and breast health benefits and they are both some of the easiest workouts to get started with. Keep your jaunts interesting by creating reachable goals, using fun apps, bringing a friend or family member, your pet (many dogs love to run!), an audiobook, or your favorite tunes. You can even do a walking meditation, stair workout, or hand-weight routine. With the beautiful spring weather upon us, now is the perfect time to start a running or walking habit, so get outside and enjoy the rays!

Sources

  1. Steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick,” Centers For Disease Control (CDC), March 30, 2020
  2. Is it safe to run outside during the coronavirus outbreak?,” Today.com, March 18, 2020
  3. Significantly greater reduction in breast cancer mortality from post-diagnosis running than walking,” International Journal of Cancer, 2014
  4. Does walking protect against decline in cognitive functioning among breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy? Results from a small randomised controlled trial,” PLOS ONE, 2018
  5. Physical activity and risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010
  6. Vitamin D and breast cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies,” Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, 2019
  7. Large-scale physical activity data reveal worldwide activity inequality,” Stanford University, 2017
  8. Do we need to walk 10,000 steps a day?,” BBC.com, 2019

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