Walking vs. running: Weight loss, heart health, and more
Walking and running are both suitable forms of exercise for weight loss and heart health. The benefits and risks depend on a person’s goals and current level of health and fitness.
While both activities allow a person to burn calories, lose weight, and lower their risk of heart disease, there is much debate over which is better.
Read on to learn more about the benefits and risks.
Benefits of cardio
Cardiovascular exercise is also known simply as cardio. It often uses major muscle groups in the body, gets the heart pumping faster, and increases breathing rate.
Walking and running are both types of cardio.
Cardio exercises offer numerous health benefits, including:
- burning calories and fat for weight loss
- lowering cholesterol
- helping prevent or manage health conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease
- strengthening the heart
- improving sleep patterns
- lowering stress
- increasing stamina
- improving mental health by reducing anxiety and depression
- increasing bone density
- boosting the immune system
One study examined the benefits of exercise for mental health and found that 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, was enough to reduce anxiety and depression, alongside its other health benefits.
Which is better for burning calories?
Walking and running provide similar health benefits, but running has a calorie-burning edge over walking.
According to the American Council on Exercise, a person who is 160 pounds burns approximately 15.1 calories per minute while running. In contrast, a person of the same weight burns around 8.7 calories per minute walking.
The number of calories a person burns while walking and running depends on several factors, including:
- body weight
- duration of exercise
- the intensity of the activity
Running burns more calories per minute than walking. However, walkers can still burn the same number of calories by doing so for longer.
However, depending on a person’s goals, walking and running can still offer the same benefits.
Which is better for heart health?
Both walking and running are suitable for losing weight, boosting mental health, and improving overall health.
One study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology concluded that walking and running reduced the risk of hypertension, high cholesterol levels, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.
However, the study did not directly address whether walking or running could benefit heart health and cardio.
Another report by the American Heart Association states that brisk walking at least 150 minutes per week is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Walking vs. running to reduce belly fat
Studies have found that storing a lot of fat in the midsection is associated with the risk of diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Whether choosing walking or running, exercise can help a person reduce their belly fat.
One study found that regular aerobic exercises, such as walking, reduced belly fat and helped people manage obesity.
Walking and running help burn calories in the body, but they also help reduce belly fat, depending on the intensity of the exercise.
However, running may help reduce belly fat more effectively. One study in 27 middle-aged females with obesity found that those who participated in high-intensity exercise training lost significantly more belly fat than those who did low-intensity exercise or no exercise training for 16 weeks.
Scientists need to perform more research comparing the effects of walking and running on belly fat reduction.
For example, a 2018 review found that low-intensity exercise was more effective in reducing abdominal fat, while high-intensity training had a bigger effect in decreasing overall body fat.
People who want to lose belly fat should consider speaking with their doctor, who can help them determine the best exercise program and diet for their needs.
Benefits and risks
While running and walking offer various health benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight and improving heart health, they may also come with risks.
There is a higher risk of injury with running than walking. This is because running is of higher intensity and puts more stress on the body — the joints in particular.
One study found that walkers have a lower risk of injury, while runners have a high risk.
Some of the most common injuries associated with running include:
- soft tissue injuries
- shin splints
For runners, it is crucial to take steps to reduce the risk of running-related injuries.
If a person has concerns about exercise-related injuries, they could consider walking instead, which offers similar health benefits to running, with a reduced risk of injury.
Those with arthritis, heart disease, or other chronic health conditions who are considering running should consult their doctor first.
Depending on a person’s goals, walking and running are appropriate forms of exercise. Both can help people maintain a moderate weight and improve their heart health, mental health, and more.
No matter which form of exercise a person chooses, they will see positive results with regular participation.
For those starting a fitness journey, walking might be a more suitable choice since it involves low or moderate intensity. However, for people whose goal is to burn more calories, running may be more appropriate.