Walking keeps pace with jogging in terms of fitness

ON CALL

August 17, 1993|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,Contributing Writer

Q: As a younger man, I had jogged regularly to control my weight and to stay in shape. Is my doctor correct when he tells me that I can achieve nearly the same benefits from a program of regular walking?

A: A regular walking program is a simple and inexpensive way to lose weight and improve fitness. A study of Harvard alumni showed that walking an average of 9 miles weekly significantly prolonged life.

In terms of weight control, you will burn nearly the same number of calories whether you walk or jog for a mile -- walking will use 80 percent to 90 percent as many calories as jogging; but, of course, walking will take longer. As much as 50 percent more calories are burned by hiking on rough trail than walking on a paved road or track. And hiking uphill considerably increases calorie utilization and produces cardiovascular benefits.

Brisk walking (at speeds of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 mph), rather than strolling, is required to improve cardiovascular fitness. Brisk but comfortable walking speeds are 4 1/2 to 5 mph for an average-sized man and 3 1/2 to 4 mph for an average-sized woman. You can measure your speed by using a pedometer or by walking on a measured course.

You can also estimate how fast you are walking by determining the length of your stride and counting how many steps you take per minute. If your stride is about 3 feet long, divide the number of steps you take in a minute by 30 to calculate your walking speed in mph. For example, you will need to take about 120 steps each minute to walk at a speed of 4 mph. If your stride is 2.5 feet long, the number of steps per minute (spm) needed to achieve various walking speeds in miles per hour (mph) are as follows: 90 spm equals 2.5 mph, 120 spm equals 3.5 mph, 140 spm equals 4 mph, 160 spm equals 4.5 mph, 175 spm equals 5 mph.

Even if you are healthy but have been inactive, don't immediately start walking at a brisk pace. Instead, start with walks of about a mile three to five times a week at a pace of 3 mph. Over the next month you can slowly increase both the distance and the pace of your walk.

If you have any symptoms or history of cardiovascular problems, consult your doctor before beginning a walking program.

Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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