If you’re trying to lose weight, there are many options that can help you accomplish your goal. But all of them include the tried-and-true combination of diet and exercise. For the former, it’s important to eat a varied diet that’s high in nutrients and tailored to your caloric needs. For the latter, you can choose your favorite activity, whether that’s walking around your block or playing your favorite sport.
But walking, running and cycling continue to be three of the best and most popular choices among exercisers. Below, we’re breaking down how each activity can impact weight loss.
WALKING FOR WEIGHT LOSS
According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim for 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise like walking or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. To meet that goal, you’ll need to ensure you’re walking at a brisk pace that reaches the moderate-intensity level, which is measured at 50–70% of your maximum heart rate.
The pros: It’s easy to get started. Whether you choose to walk on a treadmill, on a path or on neighborhood streets, all you need to walk is a decent pair of walking shoes. Walking is also joint-friendly, which makes it a great option for people who are unable to participate in higher-impact activities.
The cons: Walking is not the most efficient way to burn calories. Given its relatively modest calorie expenditure, you’ll need to walk at a brisk pace for a longer period of time to meet the equivalent calorie burn of other activities, like running. It can take a while to see weight-loss benefits from walking, but if you stick with it, you can set yourself up for meaningful results.
RUNNING FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Running continues to be one of the most popular sports in America. This is good news, as science shows jogging is a great way to fight obesity. But it may not be right for everyone.
The pros: Running is efficient. It burns about 2.5 times more calories per minute than walking, which makes it a great option if you’re trying to lose weight. In fact, one study found runners were leaner and lighter than people who did equivalent amounts of any other type of exercise. It’s also easy to keep things fresh by adding a sprint or interval day into your regimen of longer, slower runs.
The cons: Running is a high-impact sport. And though science finds that running actually helps bone strength and lowers inflammation in the knees, it can be hard on one’s body, especially if you’re new to exercise. More than half of all runners get hurt each year, sometimes from spraining an ankle or falling, but usually from overuse. So, it’s important to wear comfortable shoes, find an efficient stride and cadence for your body, supplement running with other activities like strength training, and rest when needed.
CYCLING FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Biking is a versatile sport. It can be performed indoors on basic stationary bikes or at boutique spin studios, while outdoor biking includes the option to traverse mountain trails, speed along paved roads, ride gravel or meander at a casual pace. For many, it’s also a primary mode of transportation.
The pros: Cycling is a low-impact activity, and it’s a great calorie burner. A 150-pound person can burn more than 500 calories per hour at a moderate pace of 12–14 miles per hour and nearly 700 calories per hour at a more vigorous pace of 14–16 miles per hour. It can also be a fun way to get out into nature, either for a peaceful solo ride or with friends.
The cons: A good bike is expensive. Same with shoes, padded shorts, helmets and other biking essentials. Even indoor options like spin studios and Peloton require a significant investment, so the steep price often disqualifies cycling as a viable activity for many people.
SO, WHICH IS BEST?
Well, it depends. For sheer calorie burn, running and moderate-to-vigorous cycling beats walking every time. But walking is still associated with many great health benefits — including a reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure — and it can be an effective weight-loss tool, especially when performed consistently and for longer durations. There’s not one right answer for everyone, and some people benefit more from one exercise than another.
Losing weight isn’t about crash diets or quick fixes. Instead, the best and healthiest weight-loss strategies involve habits you can stick with for the long term. When it comes to exercising, it’s smart to mix up your activities. But when choosing one exercise over another, it’s helpful to balance benefits like calorie burn with enjoyment. Find something you like, and you’re more likely to keep doing it.
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