Active-Steps-Treadmill-vs.-Sidewalk

Active Steps: Treadmill vs. Sidewalk

Where Should I Run?
If you are a runner or jogger, you may have wondered if running on the treadmill is as effective as running outside. Running or jogging is considered vigorous-intensity activity which means that you are breathing hard and fast and are not able to talk easily.(1) It is a simple and effective way to improve cardiovascular fitness and can be done outside or inside, if you have access to a gym or a treadmill in your home. Can we get the same benefits whether we run outside or on a treadmill?

Analyzing Effort and Speed
Studies show that runners expend more effort when propelling themselves on a running path than when aided by a treadmill belt. Because the belt moves, it assists the leg and makes it easier to push off the back foot.(2) According to news service BBC, a study done by Exeter University found that running outdoors required a greater effort but that runners could mimic the effort of outdoor running by using a 1% incline on the treadmill. The BBC also cited a study from Singapore that found when runners attempted to match their speed outdoors to their treadmill speed, they were slower on the treadmill even though they thought they were running just as fast.(3) If you choose to run on a treadmill, you may want to use an incline and gently increase your speed to get the same health benefits.

Weather Acclimation and Well-being
Running outdoors can provide hidden benefits. Weather varies each day and it may be physically beneficial to experience the various conditions outdoors. Running with wind or rain can be different than the climate-controlled gym or home. Temperature differences may also pose problems if you are used to running in the A/C. Running in all types of weather prepares your body for changing conditions and won’t leave you in shock when you are running out of the norm. In addition, studies suggest that exercising outdoors can improve mental health, decrease depression and stress, and elicit satisfaction.3 An enjoyable exercise routine with positive benefits can also make you more likely to exercise.

Talking About Safety
Even with their benefits, unpredictable outdoor conditions can pose some risks. If you live in a high traffic area with poor pathways or high crime, you may benefit from treadmill running. Running on a treadmill is also thought to be easier on an existing injury because of the additional “give” it has over a concrete sidewalk.(2) (Important note: Consult your physician or other health care professional before starting or altering any fitness program.)

In conclusion, running outdoors and on a treadmill each pose unique benefits and draw-backs. If you’re looking to prepare for a race, running outside may provide practice in situations you may face on race day. If the weather or area of town is unaccommodating, running on a treadmill may help you avoid these setbacks for a less stressful run. No matter the situation, finding an exercise routine that works for you is always the best option.

By Haley Jones, Tulane Dietetic Intern
June 2017

References:
1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need? Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. 2015. Accessed October 31, 2016.
2. Paul S. How Effective is Treadmill Running Compared to Running Outside? Runner’s World Web site. 2016. Accessed October 31, 2016.
3. Is it better to run outside or on a treadmill? BBC Web site. 2016. Accessed November 1, 2016.

(Photo courtesy of CDC Public Health Image Library. Active Steps is a recurring feature that appears in the Tulane PRC’s e-newsletters and covers fitness and physical activity tips. If you have any suggestions for Active Steps topics, please contact Naomi Englar at nking2@tulane.edu or 504-988-7410.)

Topics:   physical activity , running , sidewalks , built environment

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