How Walking During Long Runs Can Improve Your Fitness

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If you’d like to get a little more out of your long runs, try walking.

A recent study found that periodically walking during long runs doesn’t cost you any benefits to your heart health. Brief periods of walking may even save some wear and tear on your muscles. This is especially true for non-elite runners, the study says.

Marathon running and cardiovascular risk

First-time marathoners, however, should know that a run/walk strategy does not necessarily reduce the stress load on your heart. In exceptional cases, the researchers say, recreational runners with less training are at higher risk for muscle injury, heart issues and, in extreme cases, sudden death following a marathon.

“It’s not just mileage, it’s intensity,” sports health specialist Laura Goldberg, MD, says. “Give your body time to prepare with enough recovery so that your body can meet the challenge safely.”

Researchers at Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany split 42 first-time marathon runners into two groups. One group completed the race by periodically walking for a minute or so. The other group ran all 26 miles.

Results show only about a seven-minute difference in their race times. Both groups achieved the same heart-healthy benefits.

Run/walk strategy for marathoners

Researchers say although a combined run/walk strategy did not reduce the load on the cardiovascular system, it did allow the group of non-elite runners to finish with less muscle discomfort and less exhaustion.

“Runners tend to beat themselves up if they stop and walk during a long-run,” Dr. Goldberg says. “But if your body is telling you to stop, it’s better for you to walk, give your muscles a break and then re-start.”

The research shows that you don’t necessarily sacrifice time for comfort, either.

“Stopping to walk is better than quitting,” Dr. Goldberg says. “When you quit, you’re not challenging yourself.  Walking will allow you to go further in the end without over-stressing your body.”

Dr. Goldberg says that as long as you don’t let your heart rate completely drop during your run, you’ll still reap the cardiovascular benefits. She suggests walking for 30 seconds to one minute throughout your long run.

“Short breaks mimic what runners do during marathons when they stop of water,” she says. “If you stop for water, you should train that way, too. Otherwise you’ll have a hard time re-starting.”

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