March 1, 2013 at 7:42 AM ET
Didn't manage to finish your latest run without taking a breather? Don't be so hard on yourself. Walking during your run isn't cheating--it's actually your body's natural way of preserving energy.
In a new study out of Ohio State University, researchers asked college students to travel several hundred feet within different time constraints. When students were given ample time, they tended to walk. With tighter time limits, they ran. Finally, when students had moderate amounts of time, they rotated between running and walking. Very few of the students, the study found, chose a steady jog instead.
That's because our bodies are wired to preserve energy, and mixing running and walking does just that, says study author Manoj Srinivasan, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering at Ohio State University. Think about it: "Our pre-historic ancestors running across the African savannah needed to save energy when food was scarce," he says. So if you want to get somewhere quickly, without wasting energy, switching off is the way to do it.
But for us modern folks, exercise is often all about burning some of those energy reserves. So what's the solution? "Mix walking and running," Srinivasan advises. You'll still burn calories, "but you'll feel less tired overall." Plus, walk breaks are a great way to avoid injuries caused by repetitive stress on joints, which can help you work towards a new distance goal.
Interested in giving it a shot? Follow our Walk-Run Program to progress to a 5K in just six weeks.
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