So, which is better for you…Walking or Running??
Overall this is a very complicated question with many variables, but let’s assume your goal is weight loss and overall fitness. Most people assume that because running is generally harder to do, causes a lot of sweating and heavy gasping for air that you will burn more calories and get more cardiovascular benefit…right?? You are not necessarily wrong in this theory, but there are many similarites in the fitness benefits of both.
Running and walking are not equally efficient ways of getting around. Basic analysis of the biomechanics of walking vs. running show that walking is a more efficient way of getting around…except at higher speeds. The crossover point is somewhere around 5 mph, varying with the person…some a little faster, some a little slower. At that speed, walking and running are equally efficient. Below the crossover point, running is less efficient, apparently because you lose energy absorbing the impact of the ground with your bent knees. Above it, walking falls behind because of the awkwardness of the racewalking gait. Effeciency of moving around is the key issue.
Measuring Calories Burned
Research on the metabolic equivalents (MET) of various activities ranks each activity by calories per kilogram per hour. Just sitting quietly burns 1 MET. If you weigh 150 pounds, that is 68 calories per hour.
A runner and a fast walker, both at a speed of 12 minutes per mile or 5 miles per hour, achieve the exact same 8 MET. Their calories per mile and calories per hour are identical.
Walking at various speeds burns between 2 and 8 MET. Running at various speeds burns 8 to 18 MET. That sounds like quite a difference, but you have to take into account the length of the workout. Do they run for a set number of miles, or do they run for a set period of time? It makes all of the difference.
Calories per Mile
Between the speeds of 5 and 9 miles per hour, runners expend almost the same calories per mile. The METs are higher for faster speeds just to reflect that they will go more miles in that same hour. This assumes they will run for an entire hour, rather than doing a set number of miles.
Walkers also see very little difference in calories per mile at walking speeds between 2.5 and 4 miles per hour. While they burn the same calories per mile as runners if they can go 5 mph, they burn fewer calories per mile at slower speeds. They can easily make up that difference in a workout by going further in distance.
Calories per Mile for 160 Pound Person
Walking Speed Calories/hr Running Speed Calories/hr
2.0 mph 83 5.0 mph 116
2.5 mph 85 6.0 mph 119
3.0 mph 87 7.0 mph 121
3.5 mph 91 8.0 mph 123
4.0 mph 102 9.0 mph 125
5.0 mph 116 10.0 mph 131
So, running is better than walking, right?? Not necessarily, even if we define “better” as “consumes more calories.” When you begin a workout your body is burning carbs, but as you are logging more minutes, you start burning fat…just around the 50 minute mark of light exercise. Sixty percent of your maximum aerobic capacity (220, minus your age x .40) is optimal for fat burning; as exercise becomes increasingly strenuous you start burning more carbs. Some experts recommend that sustained low- to moderate-intensity exercise is a better way to shed flab than going all out. The point is hotly disputed (especially by the Cross Fit people) but for the significantly overweight or people with other health issues, walking can be easier on the heart, joints, etc.
Weight is a Big Factor for Calories Burned
The numbers above are very different if you weigh 100 pounds or 250 pounds. Weight is part of the equation. The more you weigh, the more calories you burn at every speed. But this is something we can’t easily change. If you wear a pack or weighted vest that adds 20 pounds, you only increase your calories burned per mile by about 11-12. It would be far better and easier to just walk an extra 2-5 minutes to burn those same calories. Why risk straining yourself?
Should I Go Faster? If you can build up your walking speed to 5 mph, or 12 minutes per mile, you will be at the top calorie burn per mile and achieve the same burn as a jogger. If you are a runner, you don’t get any calorie burning benefit by going faster than 10 minutes per mile or 6 mph.
Should I Go Longer? The further you walk or run, the more calories you burn. You get the most benefit by adding distance to your workout, whether you walk or run. Many people will be able to walk at a brisk pace for a longer period than they could run.
Calorie consumption isn’t the chief goal of exercise; cardiovascular fitness is. The American College of Sports Medicine says you should exercise three to five times a week in 20- to 60-minute sessions intense enough to raise your pulse to between 60 and 90 percent of your maximal heart rate. Such exercise should be aerobic, meaning something like running, brisk walking, biking, swimming, or cross-country skiing, as opposed to, say, weight training. Is running better than walking for this purpose? It depends. Running is certainly more of a workout per unit of time, but if your idea is that 15 minutes of running equals 30 minutes of walking, forget it–sustained exertion is the key. Then again, while any exercise is better than none, if you think a no-sweat half-hour stroll around the neighborhood is the equivalent of a three-mile run, your kidding yourself!!
Should I Walk or Run?
If you enjoy running, you can burn calories in less time and be done with your daily workout sooner. Many people enjoy the higher heart rate and the burst of happy brain chemicals it produces. But for others, running is a grind that they have to force themselves to do. In order to get any benefit from a workout, it has to be one that you enjoy and will do day after day. If you love to run — run. If you hate to run but love to walk — walk. You will just need to spend more time walking to go the distance you need to burn the calories you want to burn.