Walking vs running: Is walking or running better exercise?

Walking vs running: Which is better exercise? Both walking and running are great forms of cardio, and both can get you your CDC recommended levels of exercise. But how do you find out whether running (or walking) is right for you?

Exercise can be many things. Time and resource-efficient, relaxing, high-intensity, fun, challenging, painful, and many others—sometimes all at once. When determining which exercise is right for your routine and lifestyle, consider the benefits, effort, and impact on your joints. Most importantly, find out if you like running and whether it fits in your schedule!

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Note: This advice assumes that you’re physically capable of trying jogging. If you’re just starting a fitness routine or if you have health issues, make sure to consult your doctor before trying this out!

How can you test your interest in running?

Female jogger giving thumbs up
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  • Jog up and down some stairs until you’re winded. Are you comfortable with the sensation of being out of breath?
  • Go for a run around the block at your own pace. Do your feet or shins hurt? Does anything feel “wrong?”
  • Walk to work if you live close enough. See how you feel and whether you could do so regularly.
  • Walk around the nearest mall, park or walking trail. Set an initial step or distance goal that is hard, but doable. See how you feel once you’ve reached the goal. If you like the way it makes you feel, walking might be for you.

What fits in your schedule?

Fitting running into your schedule concept
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One of the advantages of walking is that you can get your steps in nearly anywhere, even if you only have short periods of time to walk. You can even get your steps in while you’re at work! For longer walks, you may want to change into more comfortable walking clothes and bring some supplies (snacks, water etc), but most of the time you can simply stand up and walk wherever you are.

Running usually does take some effort to fit into your schedule. You’re probably going to sweat, so you’ll want to change into more comfortable clothes and take some water with you. You also may need to change and shower after your run, which isn’t always possible during breaks at work, for instance. Running does have the benefit of getting your steps in a shorter period of time, however, so you can get your steps “out of the way” more quickly. If you have a half-hour in the morning, for instance, you can wake up, take a quick jog, and still have time to shower and get ready for the day ahead.

Impact on your body

Woman holding sore leg and knee after jogging
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Running is a high-impact exercise. You can actually hear and feel the energy transfer when feet make contact with the road, treadmill, or any other surface you may be running on. Frequent runners may notice new cracking or grinding sounds coming from their ankles, knees, hips, or other joints below their waist. These could be nothing, or they could be a sign of an injury!

Because running is higher-impact on your body, you will not be able to run as frequently as you’d be able to walk. Runners do get more steps in a given period of time, but you’ll also tire more quickly and need more rest in between runs. Proper running shoes – correctly sized, fitted and cushioned – can reduce your risk of injury. Runners need to make sure they get proper rest in between runs to reduce the risk of overtraining.

Senior couple walking for fitness in the park
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Depending on how you walk, walking can be low to moderately high impact exercise. Proper walking shoes are still important to prevent foot injuries! The proper walking posture can also help you walk longer and prevent injuries from repetitive strain. Walkers are less likely to land wrong and sprain an ankle, but bad walking form or repeated stress can build up over time.

Walking is lower impact and less tiring, so walkers can go for longer periods of time without getting tired. Walkers can still risk overtraining if you walk long distances every day. Proper rest is still very important, especially if you feel especially tired or sore after a long walk.

Running form vs walking form

Jogger running in the morning
Maridav / Shutterstock

When running, it’s important to launch yourself forward using your big toe, not the outer edge of your foot. Launching from your big toe helps ensure your feet are properly aligned when you push forward again. If they aren’t aligned correctly, runners may experience heel clip, the shoe dragging over an exposed ankle.

When walking, be sure to launch yourself forward in a similar fashion. You can check out our post on proper walking posture for more info.

woman demonstrating proper posture
Undrey / Shutterstock

Posture and form are two of the most important parts of these activities. Running form may be even more critical in the short term, because it’s a higher impact activity with a higher risk of sudden injury. If you’re struggling to master your form, you may be able to:

  • Seek out a physical therapist to help monitor and correct your walking or running gait
  • Use mindfulness to find out which parts of your run hurt consistently and alleviate those problem parts.
  • Have a friend spot you as you run. They can run alongside, behind, and in front of you to get a clear image of what you might improve.
  • Find a shoe store with staff who can analyze your gait. This can help you to spot problems that you can work to fix.

Not walking or running with proper form can cause walking or running injuries like shin splints, joint deterioration, and more.

Energy burned by both (average)

Running burns a substantial amount of energy—a 140-pound person running at a 10-minute mile (roughly six miles per hour) will burn 318 calories in 30 minutes. Walking, in contrast, burns less energy but at a lower cost to walkers’ physical wellbeing. A 140-pound person would burn an average of 160 calories in a half-hour of walking at four miles per hour. For more detailed info on how many calories you burn walking, check out our post!

Male jogger or walker taking a break
Maridav / Shutterstock

Note that simply by taking longer walks, you can burn just as many calories as you could by running. Brisk walking is a great alternative to running, as running for long periods without stopping is hard for most people. Be realistic about how far you can go and how fast you can go. Persistent activity that you enjoy and can stick to is key for fitness and weight loss, so go with what you like!

Since there’s no one perfect exercise, we can’t say that running or walking is “better” in terms of burning calories. Instead, think about what you can work into your day. Walking a half block from work before calling a taxi, taking the stairs during the day, or even taking your pet for a walk are all excellent ways to work walking into your regular routine. Taking a jog around the block in the morning, or jogging through the park on the weekend are great ways to add a little more intensity to your workout!

Psychological impacts of each

walking-in-nature-main-min
Syda Productions / Shutterstock

Running has been shown to increase cognitive function by as much as 10 percent. Some runners who have not hydrated enough or eaten report a feeling of illness, loss of appetite, and some similar symptoms on occasion. Runner’s high, caused by a rush of pain-countering brain chemicals called endorphins, lets runners push through and ignore much of their pain. The downside to runner’s high? Runners frequently overtrain and hurt themselves when afflicted by runner’s high.

Walking also can improve your mood and make you feel great. You may not experience a full runner’s high, but walking can increase your energy and creativity. Workers who stood up and walked every 30 minutes felt less tired at the end of the day, and studies have shown that creativity is increased while walking. (Read these facts and more here)

The truth is, getting active, no matter how you do it, can make you feel great and improve your mood and mental health.

Benefits of using both in a workout

Walkers high fiving after exercising
dotshock / Shutterstock

Alternating between walking and running in a workout can provide some benefits of both exercises, such as higher overall energy burn, a wider range of positive mental perks, the possibility of runner’s high, improved cognitive function, increased approachability and more. A great way to do this is to add interval training to your walking routine. Start off walking at a regular pace, then alternate short periods of jogging (or faster walking) with longer periods of regular walking to rest. You’ll get more steps faster and get many of the benefits of jogging, even if you can only sustain the jog for a few seconds.

You don’t need to choose between running or walking as daily exercise either! If you feel like getting a bit more intense, you can try jogging instead of walking that day. Make sure to warm up and cool down properly, however, and don’t start directly into a jog until you’ve prepared your body.

Conclusions

Ultimately, walking vs running comes down to what you like and what fits best in your schedule. Walking and running are both incredibly productive forms of exercise—you don’t have to choose just one to make progress toward becoming your ideal self. As with most self-improvement tasks, you can set goals, work every day to meet them, and congratulate yourself for your hard work when you reach your goals. Practice moderation and good form, keep proper shoes for either exercise and work toward your goals.

Consistency in exercise is key if you’re trying to make any sort of lifestyle change – be it getting more active, losing a few pounds from walking or running or training to run a 5k race. Make walking or running part of your daily routine, and you won’t have to think twice about getting moving.

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8 thoughts on “Walking vs running: Is walking or running better exercise?

  1. What are the benefits of running up a hill and walking down. Also running up 3 flights of steps. I run up and down the stairs 5 times

    1. Hi Chris! We actually did articles on both stairs and hills.
      Here’s a piece on stairs: https://blog.mypacer.com/2019/06/10/health-benefits-of-walking-stairs-is-it-the-best-walking-exercise/
      Here’s a piece on incline walking: https://blog.mypacer.com/2019/03/20/how-incline-walking-burns-more-calories-and-increases-intensity/

      Just note that both inclines and stairs increase your intensity quite a bit and work somewhat different muscles, so take it slow to start if you’re not used to it. I’ve also found that I have to be careful going down stairs and inclines because it’s easy to land too hard or miss a step and hurt yourself!

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