Which is Better for Health: Running or Walking?

People often ask me which is better:  running or walking? These are the most popular physical activities for American adults and new studies involving surveys of runners and walkers reveal the comparative benefits of both. Which is more effective for weight control, for maintaining good health and reducing your risk of chronic disease?

Running is Better for Weight Control

  • Comparing data from 15,237 walkers and 32,215 runners, the National Runners and Walkers Health Study found that runners were thinner than walkers at the beginning of the study and up to six years later.
  • Especially notable for aging adults, runners over age 55 maintained their body mass and waist circumferences better than their age-matched walkers.
  • Even when energy expenditure is matched (walkers burning the same number of calories in a week as runners), runners control their weight better over the long term.

Few walkers, however, match the energy expenditure of runners. According to Dr. Paul T. Williams, the lead author of the studies, to burn the same calories walking as running, you have to walk one and a half times as far, which takes about twice as long. One way to ramp up your workout is to add intervals of increased speed or jogging, if appropriate.

Walking is Better for Reducing Risk of Disease

  • Both walkers and runners have a lower risk of developing age-related cataracts compared with inactive people.
  • The runners had far less risk of high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, diabetes and heart disease than their sedentary peers. But walkers who expend the same amount of energy per day as runners reduced their risk of heart disease by more than twice the percent of runners.

Personally speaking, the combination of both running and walking is optimal. Years ago, I completed seven marathons in five years. Concern about overuse injuries and their potential long term effects, however, convinced me to return to a more moderate exercise program. Now I run for 30 minutes whenever I can, but spend far more time walking throughout the course of each day.  If you have questions about your own cardio workout, ask me here.