Deciding to lace up your shoes and get out the door to exercise is half the battle, whether you’re looking to lose weight, get stronger or support your overall health. Still, you might wonder whether it’s better to go for a walk or a run. Both can help you meet daily or weekly movement goals, which can positively impact your blood pressure, endurance, body composition and mental health — and choosing which activity to do is ultimately a matter of preference. However, here’s what to keep in mind when making your decision.
ADVANTAGES OF RUNNING
If you’re interested in losing weight or maintaining your current body weight — and you don’t have joint issues or other barriers like trouble with balance — adopting a running habit may help you achieve your goals. Running burns more calories than walking, which could lead to greater weight loss faster and over time. Over a six-year period, one study found runners lost more weight and maintained a lower body weight than walkers, although people in both groups lost weight.
“I prefer running as the better option for working out, mainly because you can make better use of your time by burning more calories in a shorter amount of time,” says Melissa Welsh, a NASM-certified personal trainer based in Fairbanks, Alaska. “However, it’s not for everyone, and walking is a great alternative if you’re not able to run for any reason.”
Mixing up your running routine may also help with weight loss. “As long as you are running at varying speeds and length, there is a decreased likelihood of plateau at your weight over time,” says Dr. Michele C. Reed, a board-certified family medicine physician and certified personal trainer based in Queens, New York.
Moreover, since there are more running races than walking races, runners may be more likely to train for long-distance events. If you’re motivated to run a quicker mile, you may become fitter as you improve.
ADVANTAGES OF WALKING
Walking is something we tend to take for granted as it’s easy to do anywhere, anytime. “Running has a much harder impact on your body,” says Welsh. “If you have joint issues, especially in your hips, knees or ankles, you may want to consider walking over running.” Since you’re less likely to become exhausted by walking than running, you may be able to cover greater distances, too, provided you have the time. You can use walking to help you reach your weight-loss goals, especially if you incorporate intervals and change up the terrain.
“Walking is wonderful for your physical and mental health and incredibly simple,” says Emily Spicer, a certified health coach and personal trainer based in Grand Forks, North Dakota. While running and walking can both lead to overtraining and injuries, it’s less likely with walking, and walking is an exercise most people can be consistent with long term, says Spicer.
You can also make walking a social activity; it’s easier to talk with a friend in-person or on the phone while walking than running, adds Spicer. “Instead of sitting on the couch with your significant other watching TV, get out and go for a walk,” she suggests. “Social health is very important, especially when we’re spending more time at home,” so take advantage of bonding time when you can reap the benefits of moving your body.
ADVANTAGES OF DOING BOTH
Walking and running don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Runners can benefit from walking for cross-training, and walkers can use jogging or running intervals to help mix things up and burn more calories. If running feels intimidating, you can always start with walking and gradually pick up the pace over several workouts to progress to a jog and faster run. Walking can also be a great way to motivate yourself if you’re not feeling like running.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It doesn’t matter whether you walk, run or do both; to improve your health and fitness, consistency is the key. Choose the activity you enjoy since “consistency is what gets you real results,” says Spicer. One great way to ensure you exercise regularly is to set SMART goals. “Your daily goal will vary, based on your long-term goal,” says Welsh. For example, if your long-term goal is to complete an event like a 5K or even a marathon, certain daily goals will be to complete short, high-intensity intervals, others will be long walks or runs and some days will need to be dedicated to recovery.
Having an accountability partner may help you stay on track and meet your goals. “Start with your inner circle and share what you would like to do, which can help you stay on track and also spark an interest in others,” says Reed, who recommends thinking outside the box. “When I was training for a marathon, it was always easy to ask my husband or my neighbor to ride their bike with me as I completed a long-distance run, as opposed to asking them to run with me.” Keep track of your goals and make sure to reward yourself along the way, whether it’s with new workout gear or a relaxing activity like a hot bath.
Originally published December 2014, updated with additional reporting
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.