Should you Go Far or Go Fast?

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for weight loss. However, many people believe that being more active can help you lose weight since burning more calories can help to shed pounds.  If you are walking or running in order to lose weight, how can maximize your calorie burn? Should you focus on distance or on speed?

The Case for DISTANCE:

Long runs and walks can build endurance and improve overall cardiovascular health. The longer your walk or run, the more calories you burn. But how far should you go? By gradually increasing your distance over time, you will help your body gain more endurance and burn more calories. Be sure not to increase your distance more than 10% from week to week in order to reduce the risk of injury. Ramping up too quickly can be damaging to your body.  If you take more than two weeks off (work, family and illness can easily derail your routine), back off on your distance and then build back up slowly while keeping the 10% rule in mind. The older we get, the easier it is to lose fitness gains when we take time off. That is one of the reasons that consistency is so important. But life happens, so we need to anticipate and adjust for it. And remember, long walks should be done at a pace that allows you to talk comfortably while walking on flat ground.

The Case for SPEED:

Speed runs and walks are done faster than the pace at which you feel comfortable talking, but not so fast that you cannot catch your breath. However, in order to speed up your pace, you will likely need to reduce the distance you walk or run. The good news is that the faster you go, the more calories you burn at a given distance.  You may burn as many calories on a faster shorter walk than on a slower longer walk. And fast shorter walks take less time! Obviously, that’s just math.  But when you are pressed for time, it is a good thing to remember.  Going faster does not necessarily mean running when you had been walking. You can increase the speed you walk by increasing your cadence (the number of times your feet hit the ground in a given time period) without having to break into a jog.

So, which should you choose, distance or speed? The answer is BOTH. Why? Because whichever you choose, your body will get used to the routine. And when your body adjusts to the routine and eventually no longer feels challenged by it, you will plateau. The more variety in your workout, the less likely you are to plateau. Changing it up on a regular basis will keep your body working to adapt.  As your body works to adapt, you will see increased fitness gains and you will burn more calories compared to the steady state plateau. This concept applies not only to speed, but also to terrain.  Therefore, should you incorporate hills in your walks and runs?

The Case for HILLS:

Walking and running up hills works the muscles in your legs differently than walking and running on flat ground. And going downhill works your muscles differently than both uphill and flat walks and runs. Variety is the key to progress, of course. The more variety in your terrain, the bigger gains you will see in your endurance and cardiovascular capacity. Hills may seem difficult, but you do not have to start with mountains. How about a small overpass? Or a street with a gradual incline? Or one flight of stairs? Consider giving hills a try.  If you are concerned that hills may be too challenging, try going uphill for 15 seconds, and then turn around and go downhill back to where you started. You can repeat this sequence as many times as you feel comfortable knowing that you are never far from a rest break. You can do this!!!

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