Running vs Walking – Which Is Better?

Running or walking? Which is preferable, not just for losing weight and keeping it off, but also for general health and well-being, and staving off disease and sickness? The answer may not be as obvious as it first seems.

It seems logical to assume that for cardiovascular and heart health, the more intensity the exercise, the better the results. After all, the heart has to work so much harder when you go on a vigorous, intensive run as opposed to a medium-to-brisk paced walk. However, recent studies published in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, suggest that the situation is not quite as clear-cut as this.

The study involved analysis of data collected on 33,000 runners and 15,000 walkers. Researchers calculated the energy expenditure on average for each participant and looked at the relationship between their choice of activity, energy expended and the health condition of the participant.

The study concluded that running an average distance of one kilometre daily reduced the risk of high blood pressure by 4.2% – but walking the same amount reduced the risk of high blood pressure by 7.2% – a significantly reduced risk of 3%.

In addition, researchers claimed that the risk of high cholesterol was reduced by 4.3% for running but by 7% for walking the same distance. Similar statistics were found for reducing the risk of heart disease, with running cutting risk factor by 4.5% compared to a hefty 9.3% reduction for walking.

These figures suggest that walking is the superior option if you are looking for overall health benefits as opposed to elite levels of cardiovascular fitness – and there’s no doubt that walking is easier on the body, with far less impact on the knees and other crucial joints.

The caveat to choosing walking as your primary form of exercise is that it is quite a bit more time consuming if you are looking for similar health benefits over running. Consider that it would take just 20 minutes to run 3 kilometres at an average jogging pace of 9km/h, whereas it would take double that time at 40 minutes at a brisk walking pace of 4.5km/h. For the time-starved busy professional of the modern age, that extra 20 minutes a day can add up to about 2.3 hours a week, which is not to be sniffed at, by any means.

Paul T. Williams, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, the scientist who led the study, suggests walking and running have similar health benefits, but only if they both travel the same distance. In other words, as long as the walker travels the same distance as the runner, the health benefits are more or less the same. He says, “The more the runners ran and the walkers walked, the better off they were in health benefits. If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable.”

That last point is key. For the health benefits to be comparable between walking and running, there has to be a similar amount of energy expended. The simple fact is the walker is going to have to exercise for a longer time period to match the health benefits that the runner gets. A good rule of thumb is that a walker will need to spend about double the time as the jogger to achieve the same calories burned and subsequent weight loss effects. So you’d need to spend 60 minutes walking to get the same weight loss effect as a runner exercising for 30 minutes.

The problem that I have with running, however, despite the fact it’s a clear winner in the time efficiency stakes, is that it’s undeniably stressful on the body – especially over the long term. If you’ve been running for one, two, even three years, you probably won’t notice many ill effects on your body. But rest assured, once you step into the leagues of a veteran runner, and clock up about five or so years of running, I almost guarantee you will start to notice some negative effects. The first thing you’ll probably notice is your knees. Running is especially hard on the knees – every step you take whilst running puts strain equivalent to eight times your body weight on your knees. This can also lead to conditions such as arthritis later in life, which is something you definitely want to avoid. These negative effects can be lessened, of course, with proper stretching, and liberal use of supplements such as Omega-3 laden fish oils, but it’s still going to be pretty difficult to negate them completely.

So, to summarise, if you’re still deciding whether to make running or walking your exercise of choice, consider this:

  • If you’re especially time starved, and want to achieve the most calories burned in the shortest time, obviously go for running. The clear winner in this regard.
  • If you just want the health benefits of exercise, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and other illness, walking is the way to go. This new research shows that walking actually has superior effects over running on a number of health related measurements – provided the energy expended is similar
  • If you are suffering from an injury, or very overweight, almost definitely consider walking over running. It has minimal impact on your body and allows you to achieve equivalent health benefits as long as you put in slightly more time than the runner.

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