Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Walking or running: What’s better?

Halfway through a 3-mile walk the other day, I started wondering: Should I run instead?

I ran a ton as a high school and college athlete, but I never liked it. That mysterious “runner’s high” has always eluded me.

Walking—which I sneered at for a long time—is the one thing I’ve consistently stuck with as an adult. But I can’t help but wonder what I’d gain (or lose)  if I shifted over to running.

I walk a mile in 15 minutes, a pace that’s good for the heart and lungs, burns calories, clears my mind, is gentle on my creaky knees and doesn’t flare my asthma.

At my walking pace, I burn 124 calories in a half hour. If I ran instead at a 10-minute-per-mile pace, I’d burn 247 calories in a half hour. (The calorie gap narrows if you run really slowly, according to

But exercise isn’t all about calories, especially if you don’t need to lose weight. To me, exercise is about building strength and cultivating energy—and doing it without too much suffering.  I want to feel good, not deal with sprains, tears or other injuries. Research supports my feeling that walking is easier on the body.

“There was a significantly lower risk of injury for walkers compared with runners,” says a study from the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, available online at

I haven’t read anything that’s persuaded me that running is better than walking over the course of a lifetime. And yet I envy the energy and camaraderie runners experience during races. And I know running is a great way to stay lean and strong.

Maybe that’s why, despite my long history of hating running, I sometimes run during my “walks.”

I’ve been reading about interval training—how short bursts of intense exercise are hugely beneficial. Studies suggest challenging yourself with short stretches of intense exercise protects the heart. There’s even something called the Tabata Protocol, a high-intensity interval training program whose workouts last less than 10 minutes, but promise significant health gains.

Years ago, trying to get to the heart of the running vs. walking issue, I interviewed Dr. Tom Ryan, a runner and executive at Mary Washington Healthcare.

I’d just taken up the walking habit and wanted to hear his thoughts on the benefits. And I wondered how walking measured up to running. Is one better than the other for me?

His answer: The best exercise is the one you stick with.

Here are a few links to stories that might help you sort out the benefits of walking vs. running: