Is Walking as Good a Workout as Running?

Sure, lap for lap, running burns more calories than walking. But research suggests a super-long (or super-fast) walk might be just as good as a short jog. Read on to find out which pace is the best fit for you.
The Benefits of Walking vs Running

There are many reasons why people start running: to stay slim, boost energy, or snag that treadmill next to our longtime gym crush (please follow our gym etiquette tips before making any moves though!). Running can help keep the heart healthy, improve mood, and stave off sickness; plus recent studies have found running is a great way to lose and maintain weight Greater weight loss from running than walking during a 6.2-yr prospective follow-up. Williams, P.T. Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, USA. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2013 Apr;45(4):706-13. Long-term effects of aerobic exercise on psychological outcomes. DiLorenzo, T.M., Bargman, E.P., Stucky-Ropp, R. Department of Psychology, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO. Preventative Medicine, 1999 Jan;28(1):75-85.. But research suggests going full speed isn’t the only route to good health Walking Versus Running for Hypertension, Cholesterol, and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction. Williams, P.T., Thompson, P.D. Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 2013 Apr 4. Epub ahead of print.

The Health Benefits of Walking vs RunningPhoto by Justin Singh

Now Walk (or Run?) It Out—The Need-to-Know

While walking can provide many of the same health benefits associated with running, recent research suggests running may be the better bet for those looking to shed some pounds Walking Versus Running for Hypertension, Cholesterol, and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction. Williams, P.T., Thompson, P.D. Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 2013 Apr 4. Epub ahead of print. Greater weight loss from running than walking during a 6.2-yr prospective follow-up. Williams, P.T. Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, USA. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2013 Apr;45(4):706-13.. Unsurprisingly, people expend two-and-a-half times more energy running than walking, whether that’s on the track or on the treadmill Energy expenditure of walking and running: comparison with prediction equations. Hall, C., Figueroa, A., Fernhall, B., et. al., Department of Exercise Science, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2004 Dec;36(12):2128-34.. So for a 160-lb person, running burns about 800 calories an hour compared to about 300 calories walking. And that equates to a pretty sizeable slice of pizza (who doesn’t love cheat day rewards?).

Running Vs. Walking Calories

More interesting, a recent study found that even when runners and walkers expended equal amounts of energy (meaning walkers spent more time exercising and covered greater distances), runners still lost more weight Greater weight loss from running than walking during a 6.2-yr prospective follow-up. Williams, P.T. Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, USA. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2013 Apr;45(4):706-13.. Not only did the runners begin the study slimmer than the walkers; they also had a better chance of maintaining their BMI and waist circumference. Another recent study supports the idea that running or brisk walking might be the better bet. Researchers found speedier folks tend to be healthier than the slowpokes, even if those going slowly spend more time exercising The Relationship of Walking Intensity to Total and Specific-Cause Mortality. Results from the National Walkers’ Health Study. Williams, P.T., Thompson, P.D. Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California, USA. PLoS One 2013 Nov 19;8(11): e81098.. (Of course, it’s possible that less healthy people are more inclined to walk slowly in the first place.)

That difference could possibly be explained by another recent study, which suggests that running regulates our appetite hormones better than walking Influence of Running and Walking on Hormonal Regulators of Appetite in Women. Larson-Meyer, D.E., Palm, S., Bansal, A. Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA. Journal of Obesity 2012;2012:730490.. 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.

Beyond losing weight, walking may still be super beneficial to our health Walking Versus Running for Hypertension, Cholesterol, and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction. Williams, P.T., Thompson, P.D. Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 2013 Apr 4. Epub ahead of print.. Researchers looked at data from the National Runners’ Health Study and the National Walkers’ Health Study and found that people who expended the same amount of calories—regardless of whether they were walking or running—saw pretty much the same health benefits. We’re talking a reduced risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes, and better cardiovascular health.

But even the most time-efficient athletes might want to think twice before sprinting away all the time. Running puts more stress on the body and increases the risk for injuries like runner’s knee, hamstring strains, and the dreaded shin splits (which plague even the most consistent runners). And of course, some people simply prefer to take things slow.

Running Vs. Walking

Walk This Way—Your Action Plan

When running isn’t in the cards, walking with weights might be the next best solution to getting in an energized workout. One study showed walking at a 4 mph on the treadmill with hand and ankle weights was comparable to jogging at 5 mph without the extra poundage Intensity and energy cost of weighted walking vs. running for men and women. Miller, J.F., Stamford, B.A., Journal of Applied Physiology, 1987 Apr;62(4):1497-501.. (And if anyone looks twice, hand weights are totally in right now, don’t they know?)

No matter which pace feels right, always make sure the body is ready for action. Sixty percent of runners experience an injury serious enough to keep them from being active. So remember that a sweat session may be too strenuous if talking to that workout buddy leaves us gasping for air (aka the “talk test” FAIL). Listening to the body and completing a proper warm–up and cool down are all ways to prevent injuries, so stay informed and spend more time running on the treadmill (and less time running to the doctor) Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Woods K., Bishop P., Jones E., Human Performance Laboratory, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, Sports Medicine, 2007;37(12):1089-99..

Bored with both walking and running? There are about, oh, a bazillion other ways to keep active, from yoga and pilates to weight lifting and mountain biking, and pretty much everything in between. Don’t be afraid to try new activities to stay happy and healthy!

The Takeaway

Regular cardio (at any speed) can help keep the body healthy, not to mention improve mood and energy levels. But, lap for lap, running burns about 2.5 times more calories than walking. Running may also help control appetite, so runners may lose more weight than walkers no matter how far the walkers go. Still, running isn't for everyone; going full-speed might increase injury risk. Adding hand and ankle weights can help pick up the intensity while maintaining a slower pace.

Running Vs. Walking

This article originally posted January 2012. Updated April 2014.

Everyone's got a favorite go-to cardio workout. What's yours? Tell us in the comments below!

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