Most people seem to have a strong preference for whether walking or running is better for you in terms of health, fitness and weight loss and which one they prefer to take part in, if either. But does it really make a difference which activity you do and is one better than the other?
Personally I am more of a walking person. I find it a nice way to clear your head and take in some fresh air and scenery (the picture for this post is one of my favourite walks in Sydney, the Bondi-Coogee coastal walk). While I also go for a run once a week to have a bit of extra high intensity cardio in my life, I don’t love running (although I always feel good afterwards). When it comes down to it, it’s a personal preference. I think both are effective forms of exercise although interestingly the benefits derived from each can be quite different.
Calories burned/weight loss
One of the biggest arguments put forward for running is that you burn a lot more calories running compared with walking. However, there are a number of difference factors that are involved in how many calories you burn when you exercise and when determining which is better between running and walking it really comes down to speed and distance/time. A comprehensive study conducted by Harvard has tested how many calories you burn in a half hour period for a number of different activities (have a look – it’s really interesting to see). They have data for three different body weights for each activity, which means you can get quite an accurate idea on the fluctuations that occur.
In terms of walking and running, a 155lbs/70kg person walking at a speed of 4mph/6.5kph would burn 167 calories in 30 mins. The same person running at 6mph/9.7kph would burn 372 calories (just over double). Therefore, based on time, yes, you do burn more calories running. However, if you walked for double the time, you would burn roughly the same amount of calories as someone who ran half the time but without having the high-intensity component to the exercise.
A further benefit to running in terms of calories is that you may have a smaller appetite following a run compared with walking. One small study has suggested that when you eat after a walk you are more likely to consume more calories than following a run. Another study found that runners are more likely to maintain their body mass and waistlines over a longer period of time.
Longer term health benefits
While running may be more effective on the time to calories front, walking may be more effective in long term health gains. Walking has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol “more effectively than running“.
In addition you are much less likely to incur an injury from walking compared with running. This is because walking is a low/moderate intensity activity and puts a lot less strain on your body compared with running. In fact, running for long periods of time, several days a week can have a negative effect on your body in the long run due to the strain it puts on your joints and organs. Conversely, walking regularly may extend your life by up to seven years as well as being “an antidepressant, [improving] cognitive function and [potentially slowing] the onset of dementia”.
All in all, if you don’t have a strong preference either way, whether you should run or walk depends on what you are trying to get out of the exercise. If you are looking to lose weight, running is more effective. However, if you are looking for long term health benefits and general maintenance of fitness, walking may be the better option. Or as I prefer, do a bit of both and get all the benefits! xx