Are long walks or short jogs better for your fitness?

Is a long walk or a short jog better for health and fitness? Should you be trying to get as intense as possible, or should you focus on increasing your walking time and distance?

Watching other people jog past may make you question if you need to be moving faster. You may be wondering if your heart rate is too low on your walk and whether you’re getting health benefits at all.

Are you having trouble walking for long periods of time, and wonder if you’re getting too intense? Instead, you may prefer short, intense walking workouts and wonder if you’re missing out on the distance numbers that other slower walkers are achieving.

Is walking better than jogging, or jogging better than walking? Find out below!

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How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?

Athletic senior man checking phone during exercise
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends healthy adults “[g]et at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.” Additional benefits can be gained from 300 minutes of moderate or 150 minutes of vigorous activity weekly.

This roughly comes out to 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, 5 days a week. For vigorous exercise like jogging, you can hit your goals in only 15 minutes 5 days a week. You don’t have to get all of your exercise in one exercise session. You can break it up into several sessions a day, such as walking 10 minutes in the morning before you leave for work, 10 minutes on your lunch break, and another 10 minutes in the afternoon. In fact, there are benefits to getting up and walking every hour if you sit for long periods of time.

Or you can do it all at once. It’s up to you how you want to mix up your workout.

Examples of moderate & vigorous activity:

  • Moderate activity: Brisk walking, swimming, mowing the lawn.
  • Vigorous activity: Running, aerobics, intense sports like basketball or soccer

How do you know how intense your activity is?

Male jogger or walker taking a break
Maridav / Shutterstock

We should note that intense activity for one person might only be moderate for another person. There are a few ways that you can determine how intense your activity is. According to the Mayo Clinic:

Moderate intensity:

  • Breathing fast, but not out of breath
  • Sweat a bit after 10-15 minutes
  • You could talk, but not sing the words to a song

Vigorous intensity:

  • You’re taking deep, fast breaths
  • You sweat after a few minutes
  • You couldn’t hold a conversation without having to stop to breathe

Don’t push yourself too hard, but it’s also important not to overestimate the intensity of your exercise!

Is a short jog better than a long walk?

There’s no one clear answer to this question – neither one is necessarily better than the other.

Jogging

Man running on jogging path
Lordn / Shutterstock

It’s no secret that jogging burns more calories than walking, but don’t discount that easy stroll through the park just yet.

Running does burn calories faster than walking, but you can burn the same amount of calories walking – it just takes longer! Running generally burns about twice as many calories as walking depending on the walking and running speeds being compared. So if you go for a 20-minute jog and you want to burn the same amount of calories walking the next day, you need to walk at least 40 minutes.

According to Runner’s World, a good rule of thumb is that running burns about 100 calories per mile. The faster you run, the more calories you burn. A 150-pound person running 1 mile in 10 minutes would burn about 113 calories or 681 calories per hour. A 180-pound person would burn 136 calories on that same 10-minute mile, or 817 per hour.

Jogging and more vigorous exercise does tend to build more muscle tone if you are looking to get that toned, lean look as well as developing stronger bones. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to look like a weightlifter, as jogging doesn’t increase muscle size. It simply means that you will look leaner. It’s still a good idea to do a strength training workout two or more times a week to keep your muscles strong, however.

Walking:

Senior women nordic walking in a field
Jenny Sturm / Shutterstock

Walking at 3.5 mph, that same 150-pound person might burn 260 calories per hour and the 180-pound person might burn 311 calories in an hour.

There are many ways to get a more intense walking workout (like incline walking or walking stairs). Power walking, which involves walking up to 10 mph (ca. 16 km/h), also burns more calories if you are looking to lose weight. Power walking also gets your heart rate up.

One thing walking has over running is that you can walk anywhere, any time usually for long periods of time. If you had to walk for an hour right now in the place that you’re in and wearing the clothes and shoes you currently have on, you could probably do it if you had to. But if you had to run for 20-30 minutes, you’d likely run into problems. You might be in the office with nowhere to run, or wearing work shoes, or you just don’t have the endurance to run that long without stopping.

Walking allows you to get your steps anywhere you happen to be. This can break up a day of sitting, giving you additional health benefits. It’s low-impact and accessible to almost anyone. It’s also fun and versatile, where running is more like a chore to many people.

Reasons both are great!

Some benefits that both jogging and walking include are:

  • Increased stamina
  • Stronger heart
  • Longer life span
  • Helps lose or maintain a healthy weight
  • Boosts immune system
  • Helps prevent or manage chronic conditions
  • Decreased depression

A note on steps

The faster you walk (or run), the fewer steps per mile you’ll register. Longer running strides cover more distance. The flipside of this is that you’ll cover much more distance by walking faster, which increases your step count. In terms of your health and fitness, this shouldn’t be a big consideration when comparing running and walking.

Which is Best for Me?

Who Might Benefit from Short Jogs (or Fast Walks)?

Couple doing brisk walking in park
Syda Productions / Shutterstock

If you’re looking to get your heart rate up, break a sweat, and get your workout in less time, jogging is perfect for you.

If you’re very busy and only have a limited amount of time to exercise, you can burn calories faster and get your recommended exercise done in less time by increasing your speed. Others just love to run, or do other vigorous activity like martial arts classes, dance classes, or active sports.

Running considerations:

Couple jogging together for fitness
CandyBox Images / Shutterstock

If you’re running (or walking very fast), you’re going to need a flat, open surface that isn’t crowded with people. You can walk in your local mall, but we wouldn’t recommend running laps. Specialized running shoes and gear becomes more important, so running is not often a spur of the moment activity. You’ll also likely work up a sweat. You probably won’t want to run on the way to work in your work outfit, for instance.

Jogging also presents a higher risk of injury, especially when jogging on uneven ground or hard concrete. Injuries you should be aware of while jogging include:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Stress fractures
  • Shin splints
  • Runner’s knee
  • High Hamstring Tendinopathy

If you are just considering jogging, you may want to discuss it with your doctor, especially if you experience any one of the following:

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen ankles after exercising
  • Pain or discomfort in your neck, jaw, arms, or chests while resting or working out.
  • A rapid or pronounced heart rate when not exercising
  • A heart murmur
  • Lower leg pain while exercising that fades when resting

If jogging is for you, keep in mind that you can overdo it. Listen to your body and make sure you give it time to rest in between workouts so that you aren’t pushing yourself too hard.

If you have trouble with knees or ankles, aren’t able to do high impact activities, or want to take your time, then walking is right up your alley.

Who Might Benefit from Long Walks?

Women power walking with poles in the park
Jacek Chabraszewski / Shutterstock

If you have trouble with knees or ankles, aren’t able to do high impact activities, or want to take your time, then walking is right up your alley.

You can walk pretty much anywhere, anytime you like. For long walks, good walking shoes are important but if you’re breaking up your walks into shorter chunks you can get away with a larger variety of shoe types. You’re not limited to a specific location, and it’s much easier to work in a walk whenever you get some time. It’s also generally easier to take a long walk, so you’re less likely to burn yourself out or feel like you’re doing something that’s a chore.

Walking considerations:

Man and woman walking large dog down the street
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Walking is real cardio, and great exercise for almost everyone! There are really few drawbacks to walking compared to other exercise types.

It is important to understand just how many calories are burned while walking. It’s easy to overestimate your calories burned during a leisurely walk, which can slow your progress towards your health goals. You also do need to make sure you’re actually getting in the required amount of walking. While a 10-minute walk is better than nothing, you’ll want to work in at least 3 of them to hit your required daily exercise. This means finding more time throughout the day to exercise.

Don’t forget that walkers can get injured too! While it’s less likely you’ll sprain an ankle or suffer a sudden injury, repetitive strain exercises and overuse exercises can affect serious walkers. It’s often good to take steps to lower the impact of your walking so that you can walk longer, healthier.

Get the Best of Both With Intervals or HIIT

Sporty woman checking watch while running
lzf / Shutterstock

On a final note, keep in mind that you don’t actually have to choose between running or jogging if you don’t want to. A new trend in exercising is interval training or HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). HIIT workouts are designed to give you an intense workout with brief rests in between. Interval training means doing both walking and jogging in the same workout (or slower walking and faster walking).

Interval training is very flexible and allows you to customize your workouts to suit your experience and fitness levels. You’ll want to start doing only brief bursts of fast walking (or jogging) to build up your endurance. Athletes often flip this around and actually do more running than slower walking.

Here is a 30-minute, simple interval workout for walkers. For a basic interval workout, you can alternate walking with fast walking or jogging.

Make sure to warm up at a walking pace before starting to jog. Try jogging for 30 seconds, then walking for 2 minutes or more. Continue to alternate brief bursts of faster walking or jogging with longer periods of walking. Later, you can increase the length of the running segments, decreasing the length of the walking period, or just going faster in general.

Benefits of a HIIT workout include:

  • Improved cognitive function
  • Increased oxygen intake
  • Improved mitochondrial function, which helps cells convert food into energy
  • Increased fat burning
  • Mood regulation

The great thing about HIIT exercises is that you decide how each intense interval lasts, so if you can only jog fast for twenty seconds, you’re still getting in a great workout. This also gives you a goal to work up to.

It is recommended that your intense stage of the workout not last longer than 5 minutes max before taking your rest period.

Final thoughts

A long walk and a short jog are both great exercises and neither one is truly superior to the other. It all depends on your individual needs, so listen to your body and do what is best for you. Intervals can help you combine the best of both worlds and get an intense workout in while not having to jog continually for a long time.

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