Running improves walkingYou might suspect that if you wanted to be better at walking, you should walk more. But according to a new study from University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) and Humboldt State University, you would be wrong. The research team discovered that older adults who run regularly are more aerobically efficient—in effect, better walkers—when they walk, compared to older adults who just walk regularly. Older adults who run regularly use the same amount of energy as a typical 20-year-old would when walking.

The researchers measured the walking efficiency of 15 men and 15 women with an average age of 69 years and who regularly ran or walked for exercise. In this study, regular exercise means exercising at least 30 minutes three times weekly for six months. The participants walked on a force-measuring treadmill at speeds of 1.6 mph, 2.8 mph, and 3.9 mph. As the participants walked, the researchers measured their oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production. The research team compared the participants’ oxygen intake to that of individuals in a related study. This allowed the researchers to compare the active older adults’ aerobic fitness to that of sedentary adults of various ages.

Older adults who regularly participate in vigorous aerobic activities like running have a lower metabolic cost of walking than older, sedentary adults and adults who walk regularly for exercise. This finding surprised the researchers, who expected that people who walk regularly would be the most efficient walkers.

Study co-author Professor Rodger Kram, of CU-Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology states that “Walking for exercise has many positive health effects … it’s just that walking efficiently does not seem to be one of them. Because we found no external biochemical differences between the older walkers and runners, we suspect the higher efficiency of senior runners is coming from their muscle cells.”

Existing research suggests that consistently running for exercise could slow the ageing process. The researchers say that their next study will focus on determining which parts of the cell supports more efficient walking abilities.

This research is published in the journal PLOS One.

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