Walking versus running for health: Which is better for you?

Walking versus Running: Optimal Health Showdown


When it comes to improving health and aiding weight loss, the debate between walking versus running for health comes up often. Each activity offers distinct benefits, and each can be tailored to fit your fitness goals and current health status. But before diving into the specifics, it’s crucial to understand how walking and running compare and what each approach offers to your overall well-being.

Please consult with your primary care physician before starting any new exercise regimen. Whether you’re considering walking, running or a combination of both, get advice from a health care professional to ensure your new fitness routine aligns with your health needs and goals.

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Running versus walking for cardiovascular health

Walking: Engaging in a regular walking routine can significantly improve your cardiovascular health. This low-impact exercise lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, enhancing heart function and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Running: As a more intense form of cardiovascular exercise, running accelerates heart rate more significantly than walking, offering enhanced benefits in over a shorter period of time. Regular runners often see more rapid improvements in heart health, including lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, which contribute to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Your primary care provider can help you get started with a walking or running program that takes into account your health history and any pre-existing conditions. Your doctor can also recommend additional resources you may need to support your lifestyle changes.

Running versus walking for muscle and bone strength

Walking: This activity not only strengthens the muscles in your legs and core but also contributes to improved bone density. Walking is especially beneficial for individuals at risk of osteoporosis, as it is a weight-bearing exercise that helps maintain bone strength without the elevated risk of injury.

Running: Running, being high impact, exerts greater forces on the bones compared to walking, potentially offering superior benefits in building bone density and muscle strength. However, the increased risk of injuries, such as stress fractures, requires runners to pay close attention to their bodies and recovery times.

Running versus walking for mental health benefits

Walking: A simple, regular walking regimen can have profound effects on your mental health. Studies have shown that walking can elevate mood, reduce anxiety and alleviate symptoms of depression. The act of walking, particularly in a natural setting, can serve as a powerful antidote to stress.

Running: The psychological benefits of running are well-documented, with the so-called “runner’s high” — a feeling of euphoria and reduced anxiety — being a notable effect. This release of endorphins during and after running sessions contributes significantly to improved mood and mental health, making running an effective exercise for combating stress and depression.

Running versus walking for weight loss

Walking: While you’ll burn fewer calories per minute walking compared to running, it remains an effective exercise for weight loss, particularly for those new to regular physical activity. Consistent, brisk walking, especially when paired with a healthy diet, can lead to significant fat loss over time.

Running: Due to its higher intensity, running is more efficient at burning calories, making it a popular choice for those looking to lose weight quickly. Incorporating regular running sessions into your routine can significantly contribute to fat loss and improved muscle tone, offering visible results in a shorter period.

Running versus walking for longevity

Walking: Studies have linked regular walking to living longer, showing that moderate-intensity exercise like walking can significantly contribute to longevity. This is likely due to the comprehensive health benefits walking provides, encompassing everything from heart health to mental well-being.

Running: Similarly, running has been associated with extended lifespans. The intensity of running may offer additional benefits in terms of longevity, suggesting that engaging in this form of exercise can lead to a healthier, longer life.

Choosing between walking and running for your health depends on several factors, including personal health goals, physical condition and preferences. While running offers a faster route to many health benefits, walking remains a highly effective and accessible option for improving health and enhancing quality of life. 

Consult your primary care doctor to determine whether walking or running is safe and beneficial for your unique health situation. Whether you decide to walk, run or combine both, the key to long-term health benefits is consistency and enjoyment in your chosen activity.

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Walking versus running FAQs

When it comes to comparing running and walking for health, several questions frequently arise. Here’s a list of frequent questions along with brief answers:

  • Is it better to run 30 minutes or walk an hour? Running for 30 minutes is more time-efficient for calorie burning and cardiovascular benefits, but walking for an hour can be more sustainable and offers a lower injury risk.

  • Is it healthier to walk or run the same distance? Running the same distance burns more calories and improves cardiovascular health more quickly than walking, but walking is lower impact, reducing injury risk.

  • Which is better for weight loss, running or walking? Running burns more calories than walking over the same distance, making it more effective for weight loss for most people. However, walking is still great exercise and can be more sustainable for some individuals.

  • Is running or walking better for heart health? Both running and walking are excellent for heart health. They both reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. The intensity of running might offer slightly more benefits in a shorter amount of time, but walking is also beneficial, especially if done regularly.

  • Can walking provide the same benefits as running? Walking can provide many of the same health benefits as running, such as improving cardiovascular health, enhancing mood and promoting weight management. The key is to walk longer distances or more frequently to match the benefits of running.

  • What is the risk of injury for running versus walking? Running generally has a higher risk of injury than walking due to the greater impact on joints and muscles. Common running injuries include shin splints, runner’s knee and stress fractures. Walking is low impact, making it a safer option for individuals with joint issues or those just starting an exercise regimen.

  • How much should I run or walk for optimal health benefits? The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes (about 2 and a half hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or a combination of both. This can be achieved through running, walking or a mix of both, depending on your preferences and physical condition.

  • Does running or walking have a greater effect on mental health? Both running and walking have been shown to improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and stress levels. The endorphins released during both activities contribute to the feeling of well-being, often referred to as the “runner’s high.”

  • Which is more efficient for busy schedules, running or walking? Running is more time-efficient for achieving certain health benefits, as it burns more calories and stimulates cardiovascular improvements in less time compared to walking.

  • Can I alternate between running and walking? Yes, many people find success and enjoyment in combining running and walking, known as run-walk intervals. This approach can help build endurance, reduce injury risk and make exercise more enjoyable.

  • Is it necessary to choose between walking and running? No, both running and walking are excellent forms of exercise, and choosing between them depends on individual preferences, health conditions and fitness goals. Many people incorporate both walking and running into their fitness routines for variety and balanced benefits.

  • How do I start running or walking for exercise? Start slow and gradually increase your distance and intensity. For walking, begin with short distances and aim to increase your pace or duration over time. For running, consider starting with run-walk intervals before transitioning to longer running periods. 

Consult your doctor before a new fitness routine

Always listen to your body and consult your primary care provider if you have any health concerns as you start any new fitness routine. Don’t have one? Find a primary care provider.

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Remember, the best exercise is the one you enjoy and can perform consistently. Whether you choose running, walking or a combination of both, the key is to stay active and make it a regular part of your lifestyle.

A BJC primary care provider serves as your health partner, providing preventive health care and treatment for illnesses, injuries and chronic conditions. If you do not have one, find a primary care provider accepting new patients. Learn more.

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