Walking vs. Running: Which Exercise Is Right for You?

Walking vs. Running: Which Exercise Is Right for You?

Are you looking for a no-fuss workout in the great outdoors? Maybe one that lets you see the local sights? Unless you acquire some serious gear, your two main choices are walking and running. But which will help you reach your fitness goals in a hurry? That’s a thornier question than you might think. So we’ve broken walking vs. running down for you.

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Benefits of Running

The legions who went in on the running craze of the ’80s weren’t far off: Running is excellent for you.

Assuming you’re healthy and relatively fit, taking up running strengthens your heart and lungs, tones up your leg muscles, boosts mood, burns fat, improves bone density, and ramps up immune function.

1. Running is a great cardio workout.

According to a 2015 study, “Running, even 5-10 minutes per day and slow speeds <6 mph, is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.” So you don’t have to become a marathoner — or even a serious, regular runner — to derive many of its benefits.

If you run progressively — going a little bit further, faster, or both, over time, and cycling in periods of lower-intensity work — then running can continue to make you stronger and more fit over a lifetime.

2. Running helps you burn calories.

Like any physical activity, running elevates the metabolism above its normal resting rate, thereby burning additional calories. Jogging at a 10-minute-per-mile pace for an hour, a 175-pound man burns about 800 calories. Do this often enough, in conjunction with controlled caloric intake, and running will help you get leaner, too.

 

Benefits of Walking

2 women walking on coast | walking vs running

Many of the benefits of running apply to walking as well.

1. Walking is a good cardio workout.

If you take up a regular walking routine after a sedentary period, your cardiovascular system and lower body muscles will become stronger, your mood will improve, and your immune system will function better.

Walking for 60 minutes at a brisk rate of 3.5 miles per hour, a 175-pound man burns about 360 calories.

2. Walking is a low-impact exercise.

Walking is a low-impact activity, which makes it an attractive exercise activity for larger groups of people. Because it’s less intense than running, the health benefits of walking level off sooner than they would if you were running. You can counteract this by making your walking workouts more intense: hiking mountains, for example, walking uphill, or carrying a weighted pack or vest.

 

Is It Better to Walk or Run?

Provided you’re healthy, you can’t go wrong with either activity.

Running

The primary difference between the two exercises is that running is more difficult. Slow jogging may be meditative and relaxing for the super-fit, but it’s a fatiguing workout for most people, necessitating a warm-up before and shower afterward. That means you can only handle so much of it.

Walking

Walking is much more laid-back. You can incorporate it more easily into your day (chatting with others or having a phone conversation as you stroll). Post-walk, most people feel focused and relaxed. And unless you’re walking in the blazing heat, there’s no need to shower afterward.

The answer?

If you’re looking for an activity to boost fitness and cardiovascular health fast, with a minimal investment of time — and you’re already in decent shape — running is the way to go. If you want something that’s relaxing, social, and easy to do anytime and anywhere, walking is your pick.

 

Which One Is Better for Weight Loss?

woman with measuring tape on road | walking vs running

Many factors influence weight loss, but the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is energy balance — also known as “Calories in, Calories out,” or CICO.

“Calories in” refers to the energy you consume in the form of food and beverages. “Calories out” refers to the energy you burn through your daily activities. If “calories in” exceeds “calories out,” you gain weight. If the reverse is true, you lose it.

Running

Because running burns about twice as many calories per minute as walking, you’d think it would be the clear winner for weight loss.

But don’t throw out your training kicks just yet. As beneficial as running can be, there’s a limit on how much of it the average exerciser can handle. A 2000 study found that injuries are much less common among regular walkers than runners. A separate study found that 27% of novice runners suffer injuries each year; for marathoners, the percentage jumps to over 50%.

Walking

Injuries is where walking has an edge: Most healthy people can walk intermittently several hours a day and feel no ill effects. Walking injuries are rare. Regular bouts of incidental walking throughout the day — unrelated to formal exercise — have been linked to better metabolic health and better body composition, too.

“We can quantify the calories used for all sorts of exercise,” says Dr. John Mercer, professor of Kinesiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas — “but the one that a person will stick with is often the ‘best’ exercise. Realistically, that means picking an activity that you enjoy.”

So even though running is a faster per-minute calorie burner, walking may be at least as effective at controlling weight. That’s because you may be more likely to keep it up for longer periods per workout and more regularly over time. This shifts the “calories out” side of the equation more consistently to the energy-deficit, weight-loss side. It’s the classic story of the tortoise and the hare.

The answer?

The one that burns fat better is whichever one you’ll do more of. And there’s no rule saying you can’t do both:

  • Run a few times a week for the cardiovascular benefits.
  • Walk as often as possible for a calming, fat-burning boost.

 

How Much Running or Walking Should I Do for Health?

It doesn’t take much running, or walking, to make you healthier. Some movement is always far better than none at all.

Running

If running is your primary form of exercise, you should aim to do at least two 30-50 minute sessions a week, and ideally three or four. As long as you vary your speed, terrain, distance, and intensity (and monitor mood, fatigue, and energy), you can work up to running as many as six days a week.

Walking

Most people — even athletes — benefit from accruing at least a half-hour of walking a day through a combination of formal and incidental walking. The 10,000 step mark — which adds up to about an hour and 40 minutes of walking for most people — is probably an overstatement. But the lesson that more walking is almost always a good thing is well-taken.

 

Try an Openfit Live Running or Walking Workout

Schedule a session with one of our professional trainers, or access on-demand content with Openfit Live. Our walking and running classes give you expert instruction and the support of a group so you can get those extra steps, lower your running times, and achieve your fitness goals.

Andrew Heffernan CSCS, GCFP

About

Andrew Heffernan, CSCS, GCFP is a fitness coach, Feldenkrais practitioner, and an award-winning health and fitness writer. His work appears regularly in Men's Health and Experience Life. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. Learn more at andrewheffernan.com

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