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-mile pace.
But deciding between going for a long walk versus a short run is more nuanced than just the calories burned. “It depends entirely on the individual,” says Jacque Crockford, certified strength and conditioning specialist and exercise physiology content manager at the California-based 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 RUNNING
Running may help people maintain a lower bodyweight, according to a study which analyzed questionnaires completed by more than 15,000 walkers and more than 32,000 runners. The researchers found that runners tended to be thinner than walkers, and they remained thinner over a 6-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, 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 WALKING
Other 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. The researchers found that 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% percent, but walkers lowered their risk more than twice that amount at 9.3%.
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 that you’re mentally and physically prepared to devote yourself to the activity, especially if you’ve previously been more sedentary. “Getting back into exercise can be a challenge, and starting with walking is probably easier to work your way up to running,” says Williams.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While both activities 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,” she explains.