Runners love the intensity of their sport. And walkers say their activity is better for joint health. Which form of exercise should win the walking vs. running debate?
There are arguments for and against walking and running for exercise. But when you’re trying to lose weight, there are additional factors to consider. Make sure you gather all the facts before you decide to walk or run.
Walking vs. Running: The Research
A 2013 study examined data from the National Runners’ and Walkers’ Health Study. It compared weight change and exercise levels in nearly 50,000 people who had been either running or walking for years.
The study found that walking led to weight loss for nearly everyone in the study. However, running was more effective at dropping pounds for men overall, and for women starting out with the most pounds.
Still, for both men and women in the largest weight category, walking led to about half the weight loss of running—nothing to sneeze at. Another surprising twist: walking was virtually as effective as running for women in all other weight categories in the study.
If quick weight loss is your goal, running is a clear choice—if you can do so safely. The heaviest runners in this study saw 90 percent greater weight loss per energy expended when running as compared to walking.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that both walking and running lead to weight loss. Walking is still a wonderful way to get started with an exercise program and it’s far preferable to no exercise at all.
What’s Best for You?
If you’re starting from a place of little to no activity, walking is an excellent choice. Once you have a regular walking program in place, efforts to burn calories with a smart walking program will pay off.
As you become more fit, or if you are already managing higher-intensity exercise, you’ll benefit from gradually adding harder workouts like running, power walking, or interval training into your schedule. Since it’s common to overcompensate on calories after exercise, try to keep your food intake unchanged as you do so.
While running may lead to more substantial weight loss, particularly in men and in women carrying the most pounds, running isn’t the best weight loss exercise for everyone. Oddly enough, running can even cause weight gain in some situations.
Good habits start by implementing small changes over time, so start slowly and only increase your distance and energy expenditure as you become comfortable. If you run too fast or add miles too quickly, you can also easily overdo it and become injured.2 It’s hard to burn enough calories for weight loss when you’re recovering on the couch.
Is Walking or Running Better for Weight Loss?
Data suggests that running can lead to more pounds lost for those who can do it consistently. However, both walking and running provide benefits for weight loss and improved overall health. The best exercise for weight loss is the one that you actually do on a regular basis. What matters most is consistency, no matter whether you’re walking or running.3
If you are losing weight successfully with a walking program, then stick with it. Try to get out and walk most days of the week. Regardless of your pace, just lace up your shoes and hit the trails.
And if you love to run, then keep pounding the pavement as long as your joints remain healthy. Hills are a great option for runners, as are speed intervals.4
Add some cross-training (like strength workouts, swimming, boot camp-style workouts, or cycling) to stay motivated and give your body a break from the miles you log on the road. You can even throw a few walking workouts into your running routine to boost hip health and work your glutes.
In the walking vs. running debate, both workouts win. Either way, you’ll burn calories, build strength, decrease stress, and do good for your body.