Running and walking both offer their own unique benefits and risks. Here is everything you need to know about the pros and cons of each type of exercise — and which is best for your health goals.
Running burns more calories than walking
Both running and walking can help you burn calories, but running generally burns more.
For example, if you compare a 20-minute walk and a 20-minute run, you’ll burn more calories running, because you expend more energy the faster you go. Here’s the number of calories per hour a 185-pound person can burn walking and running at different speeds:
- Walking 17 minutes per mile: 356
- Walking 13 minutes per mile: 444
- Running 12 minutes per mile: 710
- Running 9 minutes per mile: 976
But if you compare by distance rather than time, the calories burned may not differ as much. For example, if you walk two miles at a pace of 17 min/mile, you will burn 202 calories. If you cover that same distance running at a pace of 9 min/mile, you will burn 293 calories.
Running is better for weight loss than walking
Both walking and running can help you lose weight, but running may be the better choice. A 2008 analysis found that people only lost modest amounts of weight — about 0.1 pounds per week — by walking.
On the other hand, a large 2013 study found that people lost significantly more weight running than walking. It looked at more than 45,000 walkers’ and runners’ exercise over 6.2 years and found that men and heavier women especially lost more weight running than walking.
“The result really depends on how much energy [you] burn between walking and running,” says Duck-Chul Lee, an associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University. “And it’s not black and white — there is fast walking and slow running, and fast walking could be faster than slow running.”
Both running and walking are good for your heart
A large 2017 study found that small increases in the number of steps people took per day and in the intensity of their activity lowered their cardiometabolic risk, such as diabetes and heart disease. People who took more steps a day also had a smaller waist circumference, lower weight, and improved insulin levels.
Additionally, a large 2013 study found that both walking and running reduced the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. The study also found that a faster pace lowered these risks even further.
“[Excessive running] may put more stress on your heart, and that could be a potential explanation for why running may not provide unlimited benefits. ‘The more, the better’ may not be true in terms of running, specifically with
,” Lee says.
However, this is only for people far exceeding recommended exercise guidelines, like marathoners.
Walking is safer than running
Because running is a higher-impact activity than walking, running poses a greater risk of injury. In fact, walking has less than a third of the injury risk of running.
“There’s more risk of injury the faster you go,” says Catrine Tudor-Locke, a professor and dean of the College of Health and Human Services at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. While running, “you could trip, you could fall, you could twist an ankle. You could also do that with walking, but it’s less likely because you’re going at a slower relative pace than running.”
About 60% of runners will experience an injury that prevents them from doing the activity. Some common injuries in runners are:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Inflammation of the Achilles tendon
- IT band syndrome
- Shin splints
Additionally, if you’re obese, “walking is more recommended than running because it has less loading and less stress in the knees and ankles,” Lee says.
Should you walk or run?
Overall, both walking and running can help you achieve the recommended weekly amount of exercise. You should exercise between 150 to 300 minutes per week if doing a moderate-intensity activity or 75 to 150 minutes if exercising vigorously.
There is no right choice for which is better for your health. Rather, deciding between walking and running depends on your unique goals and risk factors. For example, if you are older or have joint problems walking may be the better option for you. Conversely, if you’re pressed for time, running might be the more practical choice.
“The number-one reason why people don’t meet the physical activity guideline goals is they don’t have time,” Lee says.
For people who are sedentary, walking can also be a great starting point. From there, you can gradually increase speed and distance until you are able to start jogging and running, Lee says. Another option for new runners could be the run-walk-run method.
Try the run-walk-run method
The run-walk-run method involves alternating between running for a certain amount of time and walking for a set number of minutes.
For example, you can run for two minutes and walk for one minute, or run for four minutes and walk for one minute, and then repeat the cycle.
Coaches and runners say the method helps reduce fatigue, avoid injury, and speed recovery. It can also help you ease into running if the idea of running for a certain time or distance seems daunting.
Whether you decide to walk, run, or both, what matters is that you make the time to exercise. It’s also important to always challenge yourself to be healthier. “I basically tell people to do more than they did the day before,” Tudor-Locke says.