Which is a Better Workout, Running or Walking?

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Photo by Timothy Takemoto

By Katie Koerner | Greatist

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There are many reasons why people start running: to stay slim, boost energy, or snag that treadmill next to our longtime gym crush. Running can help keep the heart healthy, improve mood, and stave off sickness; plus recent studies have found running is a great way to lose and maintain weight. But research suggests going full speed isn’t the only route to good health.

Now Walk (Or Run?) It Out – The Need-To-Know

While walking can provide many of the same health benefits associated with running, recent research suggests running may be the better bet for those looking to shed some pounds. Unsurprisingly, people expend two-and-a-half times more energy running than walking, whether that’s on the track or on the treadmill. So for a 160-lb person, running burns about 800 calories an hour compared to about 300 calories walking. And that equates to a pretty sizeable slice of pizza.

More interesting, a recent study found that even when runners and walkers expended equal amounts of energy (meaning walkers spent more time exercising and covered greater distances), runners still lost more weight. Not only did the runners begin the study slimmer than the walkers; they also had a better chance of maintaining their BMI and waist circumference.

That difference could possibly be explained by another recent study, which suggests that running regulates our appetite hormones better than walking. After running or walking, participants were invited to a buffet, where walkers consumed about 50 calories more than they had burned and runners ate almost 200 calories fewer than they’d burned. Runners also had higher levels of the hormone peptide YY, which may suppress appetite.

Beyond losing weight, walking may still be super beneficial to our health. Researchers looked at data from the National Runners’ Health Study and the National Walkers’ Health Study and found that people who expended the same amount of calories — regardless of whether they were walking or running — saw pretty much the same health benefits. We’re talking a reduced risk of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes, and better cardiovascular health.

But even the most time-efficient athletes might want to think twice before sprinting away all the time. Running puts more stress on the body and increases the risk for injuries like runner’s knee, hamstring strains, and the dreaded shin splints (which plague even the the most consistent runners).

Walk This Way – Your Action Plan

When running isn’t in the cards, walking with weights might be the next best solution to getting in an energized workout. One study showed walking at 4 mph on the treadmill with hand and ankle weights was comparable to jogging at 5 mph without the extra poundage.

No matter which pace feels right, always make sure the body is ready for action. Sixty percent of runners experience an injury serious enough to keep them from being active. So remember that a sweat session may be too strenuous if talking to that workout buddy leaves us gasping for air (a.k.a. the talk test FAIL).

Listening to the body and completing a proper warm–up and cool down are all ways to prevent injuries, so stay informed and spend more time running on the treadmill (and less time running to the doctor).

Bored with both walking and running? There are about, oh, a bazillion other ways to keep active, from yoga and pilates to weight lifting and mountain biking, and pretty much everything in between. Don’t be afraid to try new activities to stay happy and healthy!

The Takeaway

Regular cardio (at any speed) can help keep the body healthy, not to mention improve mood and energy levels. But, lap for lap, running burns about 2.5 times more calories than walking. Running may also help control appetite, so runners may lose more weight than walkers no matter how far the walkers go. Still, running isn’t for everyone; going full-speed might increase injury risk. Adding hand and ankle weights can help pick up the intensity while maintaining a slower pace.

More from our friends at Greatist: 

Running or walking: Which do you prefer?

  • CH1240

    Sounds to me like the walking described is a slower walk rather than a speed walk. I speed walk and would consider my workout just as strenuous as running. And I believe I would end up with an injury if I added hand weights to my workout.

    • SanteMulberry

      Besides that, walking increases adiponectin levels (fat burning hormone) without raising cortisol levels (which running can do) and cortisol is a fat storage hormone.

  • Dayy

    Great info…thanks!

  • WCPlady

    Great article!

  • suzannaf42

    running isn’t for me. i prefer to walk as i can keep it up for much longer and i can have my dog for company. I find that running makes my ankles and knees hurt to the point where i can’t be mobile for days. so walking is my thing and i love it.

  • C_29

    The runners probably ate less at the buffet because they were nauseous from running. I’ve stayed slim and in good health my whole life by walking everywhere, much like most of the people that live in my walkable, urban community. And I don’t have knee problems like the runners do.

  • http://www.designingsean.com Sean Ryan

    “After running or walking, participants were invited to a buffet, where walkers consumed about 50 calories more than they had burned and runners ate almost 200 calories fewer than they’d burned. Runners also had higher levels of the hormone peptide YY, which may suppress appetite.”

    This quote is highly misleading. It implies that runners are eating less than walkers, which is incorrect, because runners are burning more calories.

    Take the figures from the article: Walkers burn 300 calories an hour, while runners burn 800. So putting it together with the above quote, walkers would eat 350 calories (300+50), whereas runners would eat 600 (800-200).

    They are not eating less. In fact, they are eating almost twice as much. Of course, they burned more, so they are still in a deficit. But the implication that runners eat less than walkers is way off base, at least from the way the article portrays it.

    • mdmac

      Nice point, the quote is misleading! I initially read it as the runners were eating 50 calories less than the walkers.

  • Vicki M

    So far I’m a walker, who runs only for very short bursts here and there. However, I am losing weight by watching what and exercising a lot. Right now my joints are under enough stress with the extra weight, so I plan on losing at least 20-30 more pounds before seriously taking up running, at that time, I will begin the C5K program.

    • Vicki M

      that should have said “watching what I eat and exercising a lot”

  • http://mysizehealthy.com/ MySizeHealthy

    I get what this article is saying. And yes, it makes sense you’ll cover more miles and burn more running because you are expending more energy than a normal walking pace; however, as someone who has always been a fast walker I can power walk my in 40 minutes to an almost 500 calorie burn and I haven’t beat the hell out of my knees. I’ve never heard of someone injuring themselves walking. Runners, you hear it all the time! I agree with CH1240 that not enough respect is given to walkers and I believe it’s seen as the “easier” way to exercise for sure but in fact it’s not. Exercise is exercise and if you add in incline and speed you can really get your body moving. Now if the shoe companies would make some walking shoes that are not completely white and void of any fun colors that would be FANTASTIC!

    • justme:)

      Amen to this! I just had to buy ugly shoes that were running shoes anyways because I’m a speed walker but they are still 1000x less cute than 96% of the running shoes. That is a bummer.

  • rationalwoman

    Walking is definitely a better workout for me because running just ain’t gonna happen.

    • Hope

      I’m with you! We do what we can.

      • agreeable

        I hear ye, running is definitely not going to happen with my obesity, but I walk!

  • crims

    Running burns more calories, but it also causes you to eat more,so you’re in the same boat either way…. (MFP has to get rid of these people writing these)

    • dbogs

      causes you to eat more????? I’ve been running since i was 17 and I’m now 45. What are you people talking about: injuries, eating more?? Pick your exercise and stick with it. The whole point is staying fit and eating correctly.

  • crims

    The studies are incorrect, you mentioned they lost more “weight” they did not, their BMI went down. Which could include loss of muscle mass which isn’t a good thing, or even water… The other study of the free meal that you claim suppresses appetite, needed a bigger time gap. Running does suppress appetite right after a workout, but later in the evening is when people make up for it.

  • Crochetluvr

    I only walk because I don’t want knee problems and I already can feel a twinge in one knee even when walking sometimes. Plus I really enjoy walking and don’t enjoy running. But I think I may invest in some ankle weights for Fall walking. :)

  • chefdrewski

    I like to do a blended approach and find that I have better long runs, 8kms and up, if I do a 7km brisk walk the day before. The elliptical is also a great way to get a high intensity workout that is easy of the joints. Even on my off days for running, a good walk seems better than a complete sedentary day.

  • cricketparrish

    I think the runners ate less because they didn’t want to have to run again to work it off. Walkers enjoy the exercise. Of course this is only if you speak in generalities
    which we shouldn’t be doing. I say find the workout the best fits your lifestyle and is something you will continue. Running, walking, swimming, sports, dance, whatever gets you moving and makes you happy.

    • Dipak Gohil

      you’d be surprised by how little runners really ‘care’ about calories…food is our fuel. we don’t run so we can eat more or restrict what we eat to weigh less…we eat so the food we consume provides us with FUEL.

  • jade

    im only 11 and my mum said its okay to go on this but i want to lose a bit of weight so a healthier life style but i’ve just started school so how could i lose 8lbs in whatever amount of time?????

    • KHalleron

      Jade, you should not be worrying about your weight at this age – even if you are overweight, no 11 year old should go on a diet.

      Moving more is good – find activities you enjoy, even if it’s just putting on some music you like and dancing around your room (or jumping on the bed, but don’t tell your mom I said that!) Find some friends who like the same activities you do. Try not to eat much sugar or junk food (although some every once in a while is fine).

      Be healthy and your weight will take care of itself.

      • Hagatron4

        I think it is poor advice that you are giving here. The sooner we learn “healthy eating” in life, the better. Jade isn’t saying that she wants to do a specific “diet” – maybe she just wants to be more aware of what she is putting in her mouth and have some understanding of the implications of this, so she can make better food decisions.

        Good on you Jade!

        • KHalleron

          Don’t eat too much sugar or junk food and move around more is bad advice?

          What would you consider good advice, pray tell?

    • Amy

      My daughter was about your age when she realized that she wanted to work on not gaining weight. We talked to her doctor about it, which you should, too. She was careful about what she ate and got a lot more exercise. Over the course of a year, she did lose about 10 pounds but she also grew several inches so her height to weight proportion was much better. You need to be careful to make sure you eat enough healthy food so you keep growing. :)

  • Brad

    Running burns more calories?! who saw that coming??

  • http://www.chaplainmike.com/ Mike Hansen

    Walking, walking and one more time: Walking! I do not believe our bodies were meant to run/jog over a long period of time for life. I’ve met many people in the hospital that have regretted running-back and knee issues. Walking just doesn’t produce the injuries. And, I lost 20 lbs with a walking regiment.

  • Dipak Gohil

    running isn’t for everyone..but eating healthy and moving however you choose to do it IS..run,walk,swim,bike,hike,lift,zumba or whatever……go out there and LOVE your life the way it deserves to be loved.

  • Ana Ortega

    ankle weights – as in the 1980s? I thought those were now deemed to be bad for your ankle joints since they put all the weight on that joint.

  • Nikky Guernsey

    After 2 years of running myself literally into the ground with injuries from half-marathons, etc…I’m happy to be able to walk. It has taken almost 3 months of recovery from a torn groin muscle to realize this. I can be more active walking than running because I’m not constantly injured.

  • David1406

    As a more senior member, with seriously arthritic knees following many years of active sport, I physically cannot run/jog anymore. But walking, either fast or leisurely, works well for me and certainly burns all the additional calories I need to. It seems to me that runners are more concerned with general fitness than with losing weight. Long walks are for the weight-controllers! Interestingly, Runtastic, which I use all the time, awards more calories per km for a slower walk than a faster one. How does that work?

  • Melmade

    I want those shoes!

  • Sally

    I love walking! For me personally, running really isn’t an option at the moment. I’ve never had good cardiovascular stamina and I struggle for breath running at a pretty low intensity for 8 minutes!!
    Running, and the struggle it gave me, really got me down because I felt so incredibly unfit! That’s definitely not something you want from a workout! You want to feel great and want to carry on!!
    Walking really gives me a good burn in my legs (I live next to a huge forest so I walk up/down hills there) and I can FEEL my heart rate is elevated, but not so much I feel like I’m going to be sick or die haha :’)
    The way I see it, if it gets your heart pumping then you should be burning fat? (I’m a complete newb so this could be wrong) and I feel that walking isn’t any less intense on your body it’s just less intense on your breathing?
    Anyway ME N WALKING 5EVER! <3

  • Tiana

    I like to do a sort of a bounce or jog, that way it’s right in between running and walking and is not too strenuous! But I love the relaxation of a nice walk and also the fact that i’m still burning calories, it think it’s best to listen to the body and if it feels like running or jogging do it, and if it feels like walking do it, just keep moving! Nice article, i love to read the benefits behind what i am doing!

  • Jon Skinner

    The cool thing about walking is you don’t need to do a workout to incorporate it as walking briskly from home to/from the train station and from the train terminal to/from the office counts.

    For me each trip is 15 minutes so even if I drive to the station this gets me 150 minutes brisk walking per week.

    To make this work get a work bag that you can carry comfortably on your shoulders / back so you can swing your arms freely and walk briskly comfortably.

    No I can focus on things I enjoy when I actually workout e.g. hot yoga, soccer, biking, dumbells without having to worry about doing them on lots of days.