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Mpilo Mahlangu

By: Mpilo Mahlangu

“First you learn to crawl then you learn to stand. Then you learn to walk and then you learn to run …” I often chuckle at this resonating utterance made by a friend at a public speaking competition. The rest of her speech followed a different lead to my discussion but this particular phase captured my attention. It’s true, as human beings we’re intended to be progressive in nature, chasing the next goal and passing on the baton at every change-over to progress the race.

Being in a setting of a post-Olympic tide I hope some of us are a little inspired to lead more active life styles. At this stage it’s probably most apt to congratulate the South African Paralympics Relay Team for winning the Gold Medal. Incorporating some form of the physical activity into our lives cannot be stressed enough. Unfortunately, well fortunately rather, not all of us can make a living from exercise. Imagine that. Who would defend us, entertain us, treat us and minister to us? There’s beauty in uniqueness. Nonetheless we must evade the potentially lazy lifestyle our careers dispose us to. The maintenance of our health in itself is much like a relay. In this article I aim to highlight some benefits of good old ‘Running and walking’ in specifically.

Incorporating running into one’s life is certainly not an overnight thing. Norrie Williamson explains that, “The objective is to get you to the stage where you can run for 20-40 minutes in a minimum of three times a week, without strain and Enjoy It!”. Our legs, like the rest of our bodies, are constructed of muscles and tendons which when adequately trained have the ability to support a mass of almost three times our individual body mass. Also while we run, our muscles incur some microscopic damage but this damage is repaired during periods of rest. The repairing tissue incredibly strengthens the muscle making it better able to endure the load it is subjected to during running. This new strength in muscle thus improves your performance next time you run. Training is thus a vital adaptive process. Running or walking should be a Take Care habit rather than a must do.

Walking on the other hand is just as important. Of course it is nothing new right? What most people do not know is that if one commits to a structured walking programme, substantial weight loss is possible. Williamson explains again that the faster, you walk the more calories you lose. Below is a table extracted from his book, “The Virgin Active Beginner’s Guide to Walking, Jogging and Running”:

Speed (minutes per kilometre) Calories per km


                    9:20 56




The good calorie burning is attributed to the emphasised upper-body style of race walking. An approximate duration of 20 minutes is advised to reap favourable results. Caution should; however, be practiced with walking because initially we all feel capable of walking for more than an hour. This risks excessive fatigue on the following days.

Now as discussed, the advantages of both running and walking are vast and at the forefront of these is weight loss and/or weight control. It can therefore be appreciated that the risk of all obesity-associated diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers automatically diminishes. Of course a suited diet enhances the weight loss. Since carbohydrates are the primary sources of energy used, tendency to up-regulate them in our diets develops. Experts go as far as to advise to having an energy drinking within the first 45 minutes in order to replenish the carbohydrate loss.

Better sleep is also a prominent health benefit of both running and walking. What is commonly referred to as ‘Runners High’ is proposed to have a calming effect and this is evidenced in many patients. It seems doctors are increasingly ‘prescribing’ running/walking to their mentally stressed patients. I personally can attest to this benefit. Of course natural fatigue now and then will be experienced on some rather than most evenings.

For ladies, a commonly asked question is, ‘Can I still run during my menstruation period?’ The aforementioned book explains that most women should not experience any changes in their menstruation patterns when exercising. If a change is noticed then it is advised to visit your Gynaecologist or General Practioner for more cohesive medical advice. Another noteworthy aspect is that iron, an important mineral used for oxygen transportation in the body, is markedly lost during one’s period. Caution should be practiced since running/walking are highly aerobic sports; diminished iron levels can therefore comprise one. Iron supplementation in our ordinary diet is advised.

Unfortunately now and again the baton drops in a relay race. I guess the baton dropping moment in this health pursuit would be the notorious “Morning After”. But you have the power of choice; never let the dull tenderness in your legs and joints experienced the next morning discourage you. It’s completely natural and more often than not, improves as the days go by.

If the pain bothers you, it is essential to differentiate what kind of pain it is. As said, the natural pain is experienced as general undefined pain as opposed to the sharp, demarcated sensation that presents in injury. The use of painkillers is highly discouraged as it may mask true injury if present thus propagating any ongoing damage.

Running or walking as a part of your life, whether professional or not, the benefits are evident. This simple adaption helps you to stay one step ahead of your doctor and any other lifestyle related health pre-dispositions. The key is to keep it fun. As another close friend loves to say, “If you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but for your own sake-just keep moving”.


Williamson, N. “The Virgin Active Beginner’s Guide to Walking, jogging and running”. Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal: PenPrint, 2003.