What’s a Better Workout: Elliptical or Walking?

Emily Abbate
by Emily Abbate
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What’s a Better Workout: Elliptical or Walking?

You don’t have to hammer through a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session or go out and crush a 10-mile run to get in a good workout. There are plenty of activities that offer a low-impact form of cardio, including both walking and the elliptical machine. Both activities can potentially strengthen your heart and reduce the risk of heart disease. Regardless of your method, you should be aiming for 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity cardio every week.

But which of these two modalities is actually better for your body and an overall better workout? Here, the experts weigh in on the pros and cons of using the elliptical versus going for a walk.

The great thing about walking is you can do it anywhere, anytime. “When it comes to choosing a workout, convenience can sometimes be more significant than anything else,” says Caleb Backe, certified personal trainer and health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics. “There’s a low barrier to entry, you just need a good pair of walking shoes.” Whether you’re traveling and don’t have access to a gym or are looking to up your step count at the office, walking is the perfect way to fit more movement into your daily routine.

A 150-pound individual will burn 459 calories during 45 minutes on an elliptical versus 145 calories walking 3.5 miles per hour at a brisk pace, according to MyFitnessPal’s calorie calculator. It’s important to note this calorie burn can vary greatly, depending on the intensity of your effort on the elliptical or on the open road.

Also worth noting: The elliptical can offer a full-body workout if you use it as intended. “When using the handles, the arms are involved through pushing and pulling, which can increase the amount of calories burned,” says Joshua Gray, a certified strength and conditioning specialist.

Spending more time in nature helps decrease stress, boost mood levels and more. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology also found that exercising outside is associated with increased energy and greater feelings of revitalization.

While walking is nowhere near as high-impact as running, it’s still higher compared to the elliptical. On the elliptical, your feet never leave the pedals, which means there’s zero impact. “Walking is a weight-bearing exercise, meaning the joints have to absorb and produce force to keep moving forward,” explains Gray. If you’re recovering from an injury or often experience joint pain, the elliptical might be a better choice.

Whether you buy an elliptical to keep in the comfort of your own home or you use one at the gym, an elliptical usually comes with a price tag. While putting money down may keep you accountable to some sort of fitness routine, that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for that piece of equipment to collect dust and go unused over the years. Walking, on the other hand, is free.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Both walking and the elliptical can be great to incorporate into your workout routine, especially if you’re looking for low-impact activities. Ultimately, you should choose the type of exercise you enjoy the most, so you’re more likely to stick with it. Just make sure to pair exercise with a well-balanced diet to set yourself up for lasting weight loss and overall health.

About the Author

Emily Abbate
Emily Abbate

Emily has written for GQ, Self, Shape and Runner’s World (among others). As a certified personal trainer, run and spin coach, she’s often tackling long runs or lifting heavy things. In addition to that, she’s working on Hurdle, a podcast that talks to badass humans and entrepreneurs who got through a tough time —a hurdle of sorts— by leaning into wellness.

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