What’s a Better Workout: Walking or Running?

Lisa Fields
by Lisa Fields
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What’s a Better Workout: Walking or Running?

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

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About the Author

Lisa Fields
Lisa Fields

Lisa Fields is a full-time freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition, fitness and psychology topics. Her work has been published in Reader’s Digest, WebMD, Women’s Health, Shape, Self and many other publications. A former lifeguard, Lisa swims regularly to stay in shape.You can read more of her work at http://www.writtenbylisafields.com/.

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52 responses to “What’s a Better Workout: Walking or Running?”

  1. Avatar CH1240 says:

    Sounds to me like the walking described is a slower walk rather than a speed walk. I speed walk and would consider my workout just as strenuous as running. And I believe I would end up with an injury if I added hand weights to my workout.

    • Avatar SanteMulberry says:

      Besides that, walking increases adiponectin levels (fat burning hormone) without raising cortisol levels (which running can do) and cortisol is a fat storage hormone.

    • Avatar its_ok2 says:

      It didn’t insult walkers. It didn’t say you can’t get in excellent walking. You seem to be sensitive about perceptions. It says do what works for you, but if the goal is quick weight loss, some studies suggest running gets you there sooner.

  2. Avatar Dayy says:

    Great info…thanks!

  3. Avatar WCPlady says:

    Great article!

  4. Avatar suzannaf42 says:

    running isn’t for me. i prefer to walk as i can keep it up for much longer and i can have my dog for company. I find that running makes my ankles and knees hurt to the point where i can’t be mobile for days. so walking is my thing and i love it.

  5. Avatar C_29 says:

    The runners probably ate less at the buffet because they were nauseous from running. I’ve stayed slim and in good health my whole life by walking everywhere, much like most of the people that live in my walkable, urban community. And I don’t have knee problems like the runners do.

    • Avatar its_ok2 says:

      That’s a great point! Those of us who don’t live in a walkable community have different choices. We are stuck driving for the errands, so with a limited schedule I have to run to get the work in quicker.

  6. Avatar Sean Ryan says:

    “After running or walking, participants were invited to a buffet, where walkers consumed about 50 calories more than they had burned and runners ate almost 200 calories fewer than they’d burned. Runners also had higher levels of the hormone peptide YY, which may suppress appetite.”

    This quote is highly misleading. It implies that runners are eating less than walkers, which is incorrect, because runners are burning more calories.

    Take the figures from the article: Walkers burn 300 calories an hour, while runners burn 800. So putting it together with the above quote, walkers would eat 350 calories (300+50), whereas runners would eat 600 (800-200).

    They are not eating less. In fact, they are eating almost twice as much. Of course, they burned more, so they are still in a deficit. But the implication that runners eat less than walkers is way off base, at least from the way the article portrays it.

    • Avatar mdmac says:

      Nice point, the quote is misleading! I initially read it as the runners were eating 50 calories less than the walkers.

    • Avatar its_ok2 says:

      It isn’t the article’s fault that you misunderstood a very clear statement. You go on to prove that by quoting the figures they had already provided. “More than they had burned…fewer than they had burned…”. I do not see how they could have possibly been more clear.

      • Avatar Sean Ryan says:

        The statement is not clear. I am glad that you understood it, but I didn’t, and based on the replies to my comment, I am not the only one.

        Furthermore, the article’s sole job is to communicate ideas clearly. This sentence is misleading in the way it was phrased, and so the article is in fact at fault.

  7. Avatar Vicki M says:

    So far I’m a walker, who runs only for very short bursts here and there. However, I am losing weight by watching what and exercising a lot. Right now my joints are under enough stress with the extra weight, so I plan on losing at least 20-30 more pounds before seriously taking up running, at that time, I will begin the C5K program.

  8. I get what this article is saying. And yes, it makes sense you’ll cover more miles and burn more running because you are expending more energy than a normal walking pace; however, as someone who has always been a fast walker I can power walk my in 40 minutes to an almost 500 calorie burn and I haven’t beat the hell out of my knees. I’ve never heard of someone injuring themselves walking. Runners, you hear it all the time! I agree with CH1240 that not enough respect is given to walkers and I believe it’s seen as the “easier” way to exercise for sure but in fact it’s not. Exercise is exercise and if you add in incline and speed you can really get your body moving. Now if the shoe companies would make some walking shoes that are not completely white and void of any fun colors that would be FANTASTIC!

    • Avatar justme:) says:

      Amen to this! I just had to buy ugly shoes that were running shoes anyways because I’m a speed walker but they are still 1000x less cute than 96% of the running shoes. That is a bummer.

  9. Avatar rationalwoman says:

    Walking is definitely a better workout for me because running just ain’t gonna happen.

  10. Avatar crims says:

    Running burns more calories, but it also causes you to eat more,so you’re in the same boat either way…. (MFP has to get rid of these people writing these)

    • Avatar dbogs says:

      causes you to eat more????? I’ve been running since i was 17 and I’m now 45. What are you people talking about: injuries, eating more?? Pick your exercise and stick with it. The whole point is staying fit and eating correctly.

    • Avatar its_ok2 says:

      Did you read the whole article? Yes, they eat more, but the net is often less.

  11. Avatar crims says:

    The studies are incorrect, you mentioned they lost more “weight” they did not, their BMI went down. Which could include loss of muscle mass which isn’t a good thing, or even water… The other study of the free meal that you claim suppresses appetite, needed a bigger time gap. Running does suppress appetite right after a workout, but later in the evening is when people make up for it.

  12. Avatar Crochetluvr says:

    I only walk because I don’t want knee problems and I already can feel a twinge in one knee even when walking sometimes. Plus I really enjoy walking and don’t enjoy running. But I think I may invest in some ankle weights for Fall walking. 🙂

  13. Avatar chefdrewski says:

    I like to do a blended approach and find that I have better long runs, 8kms and up, if I do a 7km brisk walk the day before. The elliptical is also a great way to get a high intensity workout that is easy of the joints. Even on my off days for running, a good walk seems better than a complete sedentary day.

  14. Avatar cricketparrish says:

    I think the runners ate less because they didn’t want to have to run again to work it off. Walkers enjoy the exercise. Of course this is only if you speak in generalities
    which we shouldn’t be doing. I say find the workout the best fits your lifestyle and is something you will continue. Running, walking, swimming, sports, dance, whatever gets you moving and makes you happy.

    • Avatar Dipak Gohil says:

      you’d be surprised by how little runners really ‘care’ about calories…food is our fuel. we don’t run so we can eat more or restrict what we eat to weigh less…we eat so the food we consume provides us with FUEL.

    • Avatar its_ok2 says:

      Runners enjoy the exercise too.

  15. Avatar jade says:

    im only 11 and my mum said its okay to go on this but i want to lose a bit of weight so a healthier life style but i’ve just started school so how could i lose 8lbs in whatever amount of time?????

    • Avatar KHalleron says:

      Jade, you should not be worrying about your weight at this age – even if you are overweight, no 11 year old should go on a diet.

      Moving more is good – find activities you enjoy, even if it’s just putting on some music you like and dancing around your room (or jumping on the bed, but don’t tell your mom I said that!) Find some friends who like the same activities you do. Try not to eat much sugar or junk food (although some every once in a while is fine).

      Be healthy and your weight will take care of itself.

      • Avatar Hagatron4 says:

        I think it is poor advice that you are giving here. The sooner we learn “healthy eating” in life, the better. Jade isn’t saying that she wants to do a specific “diet” – maybe she just wants to be more aware of what she is putting in her mouth and have some understanding of the implications of this, so she can make better food decisions.

        Good on you Jade!

        • Avatar KHalleron says:

          Don’t eat too much sugar or junk food and move around more is bad advice?

          What would you consider good advice, pray tell?

    • Avatar Amy says:

      My daughter was about your age when she realized that she wanted to work on not gaining weight. We talked to her doctor about it, which you should, too. She was careful about what she ate and got a lot more exercise. Over the course of a year, she did lose about 10 pounds but she also grew several inches so her height to weight proportion was much better. You need to be careful to make sure you eat enough healthy food so you keep growing. 🙂

  16. Avatar Brad says:

    Running burns more calories?! who saw that coming??

  17. Avatar Mike Hansen says:

    Walking, walking and one more time: Walking! I do not believe our bodies were meant to run/jog over a long period of time for life. I’ve met many people in the hospital that have regretted running-back and knee issues. Walking just doesn’t produce the injuries. And, I lost 20 lbs with a walking regiment.

  18. Avatar Dipak Gohil says:

    running isn’t for everyone..but eating healthy and moving however you choose to do it IS..run,walk,swim,bike,hike,lift,zumba or whatever……go out there and LOVE your life the way it deserves to be loved.

  19. Avatar Ana Ortega says:

    ankle weights – as in the 1980s? I thought those were now deemed to be bad for your ankle joints since they put all the weight on that joint.

  20. Avatar Nikky Guernsey says:

    After 2 years of running myself literally into the ground with injuries from half-marathons, etc…I’m happy to be able to walk. It has taken almost 3 months of recovery from a torn groin muscle to realize this. I can be more active walking than running because I’m not constantly injured.

  21. Avatar David1406 says:

    As a more senior member, with seriously arthritic knees following many years of active sport, I physically cannot run/jog anymore. But walking, either fast or leisurely, works well for me and certainly burns all the additional calories I need to. It seems to me that runners are more concerned with general fitness than with losing weight. Long walks are for the weight-controllers! Interestingly, Runtastic, which I use all the time, awards more calories per km for a slower walk than a faster one. How does that work?

  22. Avatar Melmade says:

    I want those shoes!

  23. Avatar Sally says:

    I love walking! For me personally, running really isn’t an option at the moment. I’ve never had good cardiovascular stamina and I struggle for breath running at a pretty low intensity for 8 minutes!!
    Running, and the struggle it gave me, really got me down because I felt so incredibly unfit! That’s definitely not something you want from a workout! You want to feel great and want to carry on!!
    Walking really gives me a good burn in my legs (I live next to a huge forest so I walk up/down hills there) and I can FEEL my heart rate is elevated, but not so much I feel like I’m going to be sick or die haha :’)
    The way I see it, if it gets your heart pumping then you should be burning fat? (I’m a complete newb so this could be wrong) and I feel that walking isn’t any less intense on your body it’s just less intense on your breathing?
    Anyway ME N WALKING 5EVER! <3

  24. Avatar Tiana says:

    I like to do a sort of a bounce or jog, that way it’s right in between running and walking and is not too strenuous! But I love the relaxation of a nice walk and also the fact that i’m still burning calories, it think it’s best to listen to the body and if it feels like running or jogging do it, and if it feels like walking do it, just keep moving! Nice article, i love to read the benefits behind what i am doing!

  25. Avatar Jon Skinner says:

    The cool thing about walking is you don’t need to do a workout to incorporate it as walking briskly from home to/from the train station and from the train terminal to/from the office counts.

    For me each trip is 15 minutes so even if I drive to the station this gets me 150 minutes brisk walking per week.

    To make this work get a work bag that you can carry comfortably on your shoulders / back so you can swing your arms freely and walk briskly comfortably.

    No I can focus on things I enjoy when I actually workout e.g. hot yoga, soccer, biking, dumbells without having to worry about doing them on lots of days.

  26. Avatar B says:

    Is there a way to stop MyFitnessPal app from sending extraneous material such as blog posts and messages?

  27. Avatar Galadriel0407 says:

    I have lost 65 lbs walking and using an elliptical. I refuse to run because it feels wrong and makes me gasp for air in an unnatural way. I think consistency is more important that type of workout.

  28. Avatar Galadriel0407 says:

    I have lost 65 lbs walking and using an elliptical. I refuse to run because it feels wrong and makes me gasp for air in an unnatural way. I think consistency is more important that type of workout.

  29. Avatar Donna says:

    I read the article, but it doesn’t change how I feel. What each of us should be asking is which is a better work out for me walking or running? For me it’s walking. It works for me both physically as well as mentally.

  30. Avatar Bounderaz says:

    I read something a while back that stated walking uphill was equal to running due to the muscle groups it required you to use

  31. Avatar MIM49 says:

    Anyone know who makes the shoes in the picture? What brand are they?

  32. Avatar Mike Dollhopf says:

    I believe in the study that mentioned appetite suppression as one reason why those who run lost more weight. But I have heard and also believe that when you push muscles harder (running obviously involves muscles dealing with more force), the resting metabolic need for energy is higher in muscles even long after exercising. The muscle are still burning it while you have a beer and wait for the walker to catch. up. I do walk as many miles as I run, nothing against either form.

  33. Avatar Leigh Oden says:

    I have recently started actively walking again. I won’t mention how many pounds I need to loose but it’s a lot! My problem is that I have one knee that has given me problems since I was a skinny teenager (many moons ago) and know my good knee is giving me fits. I have good shoes with proper support, but find the pain in my “good” knee to be discouraging. I want to walk/jog at intervals and work my way up to running but with my knees it may not ever be possible. I am taking the bike up again and plan on buying myself a set of old fashioned skates, thinking that may be easier on the old knees and have as good or better results for the old heart.

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