When it comes to fat loss or any health and fitness goal, it is generally believed that increasing cardio, particularly running, is one of the best things you can do.
The reasoning behind this is that running burns a lot more calories and improves our fitness compared with other forms of exercise such as strength training or walking.
While running does burn calories and improves cardiovascular fitness, it is not what I would recommend as the most effective and healthy way to lose weight and improve your health, both physically and mentally.
What happens when you run
When you begin your run, your body uses a quick but inefficient source of energy through a process called anaerobic metabolism. This lasts for the first couple of minutes until you breathe in enough oxygen to switch over to aerobic metabolism. This is why the first few minutes of your run might seem the hardest.
In aerobic metabolism, your body mainly uses glycogen (carbohydrates) as its fuel source. It also releases a few hormones in order to release glycogen into the blood supply.
One of these hormones is cortisol – often known as the stress hormone.
Cortisol is an essential hormone and is required in certain situations in life.
However, research has shown that cortisol actually causes your body to deposit and store fat around the abdomen.
This is the case even if you are exercising more than you are eating.
Moreover, modern life is stressful.
Many of us produce lots of cortisol through the day at work and this is exacerbated by going for a long run straight after work.
So the key point is that when it comes to fat loss it is just as much a hormonal concern as well as a calorie concern.
Running is also a high impact exercise. Over time, this can impact your joints and increase your risk of injury.
Now I’m not saying you should never run.
But I recommend that when you do decide to run, do sprints instead.
Yes, this will increase cortisol levels. But the benefits you get from doing sprints are much more beneficial than running.
See my beginners guide on sprinting here which explains why sprinting is a better movement than running whilst also providing the same cardiovascular benefits.
What happens when you walk
Conversely, walking doesn’t spike cortisol levels the same way that running does. In fact, a walk in nature actually reduces stress and cortisol levels and therefore puts your body in a state of balance.
As a result, you don’t elevate cortisol levels and reduce the amount of abdominal fat your body will store.
Science has confirmed this with studies showing that those who walk regularly tend to have a lower weight than those who regularly run or go to the gym.
Walking has also been linked with reducing anxiety, protecting your thyroid and reducing your risk of arthritis.
Both running and walking have benefits.
However, walking lowers stress levels and the hormone cortisol which help to put your body in balance and stop storing fat.
It also improves anxiety and much less likely to get injured when compared with running.
Therefore, I recommend adding 2-3 walk days per week from 30 minutes to an hour.