Is Walking as Good a Workout as Running?

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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. But research suggests going full speed isn’t the only route to good health.

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. Unsurprisingly, people expend two-and-a-half times more energy running than walking, whether that’s on the track or on the treadmill. 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?).

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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. 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.

That difference could possibly be explained by another recent study, which suggests that running regulates our appetite hormones better than walking. 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. 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. (Also check out: Greatist's Complete Running Resources)

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.

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 m.p.h speed on the treadmill with hand and ankle weights was comparable to jogging at 5 m.p.h without the extra poundage. (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).

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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.

This article originally posted January 2012. Updated May 2013 by Shana Lebowitz.

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