Walking or Running? Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Exercise

Whether you are running a marathon or walking your dog, staying active has countless benefits on your body and your brain.

Both running and walking have been shown to promote heart health, improve sleep, support your immune system, boost mood, and ultimately lead to a healthier, longer life.

However, while a jaunt and a jog are both classed as forms of cardiovascular exercise, anyone who has ever been on a run can confirm that the two are definitely not the same.

Woman on a walk
Stock image of a woman walking through a forest. Both that activity and running count towards your weekly recommended exercise, but is one better than the other? SeventyFour/Getty

"The latest Physical Activity Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggest to maintain health and incur the benefits of an active lifestyle adults should get 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise," John Ford, a certified exercise physiologist at JKF Fitness and Health, told Newsweek. "That equates to about 30 minutes a day, five days per week."

Both walking and running count towards this weekly recommendation, but the benefits of each will depend on your goals and fitness level.

Walking vs. Running for Weight Loss

Weight loss requires a calorie deficit. While not all calories are created equal, you will lose weight only if you burn more of them than you eat.

Timothy Olds, professor of health sciences at the University of South Australia, told Newsweek: "Fat is the main storage form of excess calories, so a person's fatness increases when they consume more calories than they use, and decreases when they use more calories than they consume."

When it comes to weight loss, running is a more time-efficient way to burn these excess calories.

"Energy expenditure increases the faster you walk or run," Olds said. "Competitive walkers, for example, are extremely fit athletes, comparable to marathon runners, but most people would not 'power walk' near that level."

The American Council on Exercise has estimated that, for a person weighing 160 pounds, running burns approximately 15.1 calories per minute, while walking burns only 8.7. That makes sense—running is faster, so you are covering more distance per minute. But how do running and walking compare when you are measuring distance?

"Running is one of the most-efficient forms of higher-intensity exercise," Ford said. "It stands out for engaging multiple muscle groups and, in addition, it's a weight-bearing exercise that causes the muscles and bones to work against gravity.

"That additional gravitational component can help increase and maintain bone density. Plus, the added component of working against gravity increases the work necessary to complete the movement leading to greater energy demands."

As a result, running is not only more efficient at burning calories, but it is also more effective.

Couple running in park
Stock image of people running. When it comes to weight loss, running has the upper hand. Rawpixel/Getty

However, Olds said that, if your goal is to lose weight, your diet is also important. "Energy expenditure over and above what we need to just survive accounts for about a third of all the calories we burn, and of that, only a relatively small part is due to what we would normally call exercise.

"If someone exercises–say, at a very brisk walk or harder—for 30 minutes a day, that may account for about 5 percent of their total daily energy expenditure—not very much," Olds added. "Most studies show that diet, plus exercise, is the most effective way to lose weight."

Is Too Much Running Bad for You?

While running beats walking when it comes to calorie expenditure, it is not for everyone.

"A drawback to running is that the weight-bearing nature of the exercise can make it contraindicated for individuals with joint or bone injuries or limitations," Ford said.

Studies have shown that running is more likely to lead to injuries, particularly among novice runners. Not having the right running shoes and incorrect posture can also increase your risk of injury.

"Each person needs to listen to their body to find their mileage sweet-spot," Ford said. "This is going to be different for every person, depending on everything from their genetic makeup to their athletic history to what injuries they've suffered during their life.

"Some of the common physical signs that you may be running too much are persistent joint and muscle pain, frequent injuries, becoming ill more frequently, and low energy."

In a study in 2015, Peter Schnohr, a clinical cardiologist and co-founder of the Copenhagen City Heart Study, found that the health-promoting benefits of running follow a U-shaped curve, and diminish after a certain level of intensity.

Runner with sprained ankle
Stock image of a runner with a sprained ankle. Running carries a higher risk of injury than walking. BartekSzewczyk/Getty

"We have found that it is possible to do too much cardio," Schnohr told Newsweek. "Light and moderate joggers had a lower mortality than sedentary non-joggers, but strenuous joggers, more than four hours [of fast] jogging a week, have higher mortality not different from sedentary non-joggers."

From his research, Schnohr identified that jogging for up to 2.5 hours a week at a slow to moderate pace delivered the most benefits in terms of longevity.

Is Walking or Running Better?

When it comes to losing weight, running clearly has the upper hand, but this does not mean it is the best form of exercise for everyone. It is also possible to run too much, which can risk injuries and even strain the heart.

"While I would love to say that walking can be just as effective of a workout as running, I can't, because I would be lying to you," Ford said. "In fairness, the two really shouldn't be compared against each other. Running, due to larger muscle recruitment, greater forces exerted and faster motion capability will always have the proverbial 'leg-up' on walking.

"With that being said, walking is a really good form of exercise and can help you reach your fitness and weight-loss goals."

Olds agreed that while walking does deliver clear health benefits, running is more efficient.

"You can likely get pretty much the same health benefits from either running or walking, but running is more time-efficient," he said. "In terms of longer life, one minute of running is roughly equivalent to about 3.5 minutes of walking. Walking will get you there, but running will get you there faster.

"Of course, running is not for everyone due to the musculoskeletal stress. In terms of aerobic fitness, walking probably won't be intense enough for a young person to increase their fitness, but may be sufficient for an older person."

Ultimately, what works for you might not work for someone else, but what matters is that you stay active. Both running and walking provide significant health benefits and count towards your weekly exercise recommendations.

"The exercise you do is better for you than the exercise you don't do," Olds said.

Is there a health issue that's worrying you? Do you have a question about exercise? Let us know via health@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.


Wilkin L.D., Cheryl A., Haddock B.L. Energy expenditure comparison between walking and running in average fitness individuals, J Strength Cond Res. April 2012, doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31822e592c.

Nielsen R.O., et al., Excessive Progression in Weekly Running Distance and Risk of Running-Related Injuries: An Association Which Varies According to Type of Injury, J. Ortho. Sports Phys. Ther., September 20, 2014, doi/10.2519/jospt.2014.5164

Schnohr P., O'Keefe J.H., Marott J.L., Lange P., Jensen G.B. Dose of jogging and long-term mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol., February 10, 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.11.023