Running is the poster child for fitness. It’s often promoted as the secret to losing weight, reducing stress, and sleeping better. But what about walking, the gentle workout that Hippocrates once called “man’s best medicine”? This is how the two workouts stack up.
For everyday fitness
Despite its benefits, running is a high-impact exercise that can be tough on our bodies. Runners’ legs absorb more than 100 tons of impact force in a single mile. To stay healthy in the long run, experts recommend no more than five moderate-intensity runs per week. Because we keep one foot on the ground at all times, walking is gentler on the body.
The takeaway: If you’re worried about injuries (or already suffering from one), stick with walking. Runners have a 20 to 70 percent chance of sustaining injuries. Walkers have a mere 1 to 5 percent chance of getting hurt.
For weight loss
Simple math proves that running wins this one. If you weigh 160 pounds, one hour of brisk walking burns about 300 calories. If you spend that time jogging, you burn double that—600 calories. Even when walkers spend twice as much time exercising, a six-year study of more than 45,000 people found that runners still tend to lose more weight. The researchers note, however, that both exercises helped participants achieve a healthy BMI.
The takeaway: If you’re relatively new to running, start with a training plan.
For overall health
If you simply want to stay healthy, walking may be just as good as running. Research shows that when energy expenditure is equal, walking and running similarly reduce our risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. A meta-analysis of the health benefits of walking tracked participants over 11 years. Those who walked the fastest and farthest had healthier hearts and greater overall well-being.
The takeaway: Look at your typical day. Are there opportunities to build 30 to 45 minutes of walking into your schedule? Chances are, you can fit in one or two of these ideas.
- Hold 15-minute walking meetings at work.
- Walk to the bus stop. (Bonus: if you’d otherwise drive a car, the environment will thank you.)
- Park farther away from work, school, grocery stores, et cetera.
- Walk your dog. Dog owners are up to 77 percent more likely to be physically fit, compared to those who don’t have a dog.
- Track your steps, taking a few more each day. Fitness apps make this super easy.