“At age 43, when I decided to run again, I realized that the images used to describe runners didn’t fit me. I wasn’t a rabbit. I wasn’t a gazelle or a cheetah or any of the other animals that run fast and free. But I wasn’t a turtle or a snail either. I wasn’t content anymore to move slowly through my life and hide in my shell when I was scared…”
― John Bingham, The Courage To Start: A Guide To Running for Your Life
Could slow be the new fast? Could an easy-does-it approach be as useful to overall health as an all-out, no-pain no-gain way to get fit and healthy? Is the tortoise finally getting his comeuppance?
Surely long and intense workouts are the way to health and fitness? And if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right. Right?
Well, Professor Tanaka thinks slow is better. And he should know. He’s the author of Slow Jogging, an avid slow jogger and marathon runner. And as director of the Institute for Physical Activity at Fukuoka University, Japan, he knows a thing or two about exercise and health.
He believes humans were built for slow, long-distance running. For early hunter-gatherers, survival depended on being able to chase down that bison; an amble walk just wasn’t going to cut it. Likewise, an all-out sprint would have been impossible to keep up for long.
Anatomical features such as elongated Achilles tendons — barely used when walking — act like springs when your feet go off the ground and help cushion the impact of landing. And our ability to sweat helps prevent overheating.
So, how do you slow jog? Easily. Think of it as a step up from walking. Think trot. The wise professor suggests newbies switch between 15 seconds of walking and 30 seconds of slow jogging. That way, your body gets used to the new intensity over time.
Good posture is vital: keep your chin up, look straight ahead; imagine a thread running from the top of your head to the sky above. And keep your shoulders and arms relaxed; swinging your arms forward, not sideways.
And don’t forget the footwork. Landing on your heel is more likely to cause injuries than if you land on the centre-to-front part of your foot. Injuries caused by poor form are one of the major reasons newbies give up. (I know, I used to be one of them.)
So what’s the ideal speed? In Japanese, the ideal slow jogging pace is known as niko niko — or, in English, if you’re able to smile, chat or sing, you’re good. Beginners should aim for walking speed.
How effective is it? Because more energy is used to switch from walking to slow jogging, more calories are used; in fact, up to twice the calories, but without leaving you feeling like a quivering heap of jelly, unable to take another step.
And what about health benefits? Well, a Danish study in 2015 found lower rates of death among the slow joggers than those jogging more intensely (think running). And an article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that as little as five minutes — five minutes! — of running at slow speed (lower than 6 miles per hour) lowered the risk of death from heart disease by up to 45 percent.
And the beauty of slow jogging is that anyone can do it. It’s a safe form of exercise, even for someone with underlying health conditions. As long as you stick to niko niko pace, that is.
Until next time,
PS. Sadly, Professor Tanaka died in 2018, but his legacy lives on as more people discover this fun, gentle and safe way to get fitter and healthier. I know I’m glad I did.
- Tanaka, H, Jackowska, M. (2016) Slow Jogging: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Have Fun with Science-based, Natural Running [Kindle] Skyhorse Publishing.