When looking to lose or maintain weight, exercise along with a healthy diet is an important part of the equation. The intensity of exercise helps determine how many calories you burn, which is why not all activities are created equal.
For example, if you weigh 165 pounds, you can burn roughly 300 calories in an hour if you walk briskly. Or, you can burn an equivalent 300 calories in just 24 minutes, if you run at a 10-minute-per-mile pace.
But deciding between a long walk and a short run is more nuanced than just the calories burned. “It depends entirely on the individual,” says Jacque Crockford, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and exercise physiology content manager at the American Council on Exercise. “If time is a factor, and for many this is the case, a short, intense workout may be helpful to get movement in and burn calories. If time is less of an issue, or you have joint/musculoskeletal problems that may prevent you from running or doing intense exercise, a walk may better serve you.”
If you have the time and ability to walk or run, you may want to look beyond calorie expenditure when you’re considering the benefits of each exercise. Here, a look at how both types of activities can be used to meet your health goals:
THE BENEFITS OF WALKING
Some research examined the effects of walking and running on high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and cholesterol levels among more than 49,000 participants in the National Runners’ and Walkers’ Healthy Study. Researchers found walkers significantly reduced their risk levels for these conditions, compared to runners. For example, runners reduced their blood pressure levels by 4.2%, but walkers reduced their levels by 7.2%. Runners lowered their risk of coronary heart disease by 4.5%, but walkers lowered their risk more than twice that amount at 9.3%.
THE BENEFITS OF RUNNING
Running may help people maintain lower body weight, according to a study, which analyzed questionnaires completed by more than 15,000 walkers and more than 32,000 runners. The researchers found runners tended to be thinner than walkers, and they remained thinner over a six-year period. This was true across age groups, even among older runners who ran shorter distances than younger runners and who didn’t burn many more calories than age-matched folks who walked.
“Part of the reason is that increases in post-exercise metabolic rate and post-exercise appetite suppression are greater for vigorous exercise like running compared to moderate exercise like walking,” says study author Paul Williams, PhD, a statistician staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. “Running appears to be better at attenuating age-related weight gain than walking.”
THE BENEFITS OF ADDING STRENGTH TRAINING
If weight loss or maintaining your weight is an important goal, you may want to lift weights at least twice a week, in addition to walking or running. A study examining the exercise habits of 1.7 million Americans found people were less likely to be obese if they did aerobic exercise like walking or running for 30 minutes per day plus weight training twice a week.
For example, “a general weekly plan might be to walk [or] run … on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and to do strength training on Tuesday [and] Thursday,” says Crockford. “Strength training twice per week is recommended to maintain muscle mass and bone health. Additional strength training can increase muscle mass and may aid in weight loss through additional caloric expenditure.”
READ MORE > WHY STRENGTH TRAINING IS A MUST FOR EVERYBODY
Focus on strength-training exercises that complement your walking or running routine, such as moving in a lateral plane with side lunges. “Developing ankle mobility and strengthening hip stability is important,” adds CJ Hammond, a certified personal trainer based in Los Angeles. If you’re unsure what to do, seek advice from a personal trainer or physical therapist who can customize a routine to address your specific strengths and weaknesses.
CONSIDER YOUR STARTING POINT
When deciding between walking and running, “it’s important to take into account your previous exercise experience and your current fitness level,” says Crockford. If you’re interested in running regularly, be sure you’re mentally and physically prepared to devote yourself to the activity, especially if you’ve previously been more sedentary.
One way to add running to your repertoire is to build up the frequency and intensity of your walks first, then slowly add spurts of running to your walking routine. “Getting back into exercise can be a challenge, and starting with walking is probably easier to work your way up to running,” says Williams.
Don’t push yourself too hard at first, to ensure you won’t get injured or burnt out. “If you’re a beginner and just getting to running, I would recommend you run 3–4 days a week with alternate rest days,” Hammond says. “Some people prefer 1 minute [of running] followed by 2 minutes [of walking],” Crockford says. “Build up to running for 20 minutes by doing whatever on-off plan that they feel comfortable with.”
CALCULATING EXERCISE TIME AND INTENSITY
Whether your goal is weight loss or increasing your endurance level, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity walking or running each week. This means, “if walking or running while talking is described as somewhat difficult, you’re likely in the right zone,” says Crockford.
Increasing the length of your walks or runs may help you achieve your weight-loss goals.“Weight loss can be achieved, for most people, through moving more and being in a calorie deficit,” says Crockford. “‘Endurance is a relative term and should be something each individual person increases at their own pace, based on their goals, current fitness level and previous exercise experience,” says Crockford. That may mean starting out with a beginner plan and working your way up to more intense intervals for longer durations.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While both walking and running can be great forms of cardio, you might want to consider the total distance you cover while exercising, rather than the length of time that elapses during your workout.
“Instead of setting a goal to walk or run for 40 minutes, it is probably better to set a goal of 3 miles,” says Williams. “Weight change over time is greater for distance-based estimates of energy expenditure compared to time-based ones.”
Make progress every day while you work on fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.