According to the 2008 United States Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG), adults can gain substantial health benefits by doing at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity or 1.25 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity every week OR an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous- intensity aerobic activity.1 Aerobic exercise is defined as any sustained exercise that stimulates and strengthens the heart and lungs; it benefits our bodies by improving the utilization of oxygen.2 Aerobic exercise comprises a variety of physical activities, but walking and running are probably the most popular due their relative simplicity, convenience, and low cost when compared with other activities, such as swimming, biking, or exercise classes, all of which can potentially require travel, the purchase of expensive equipment or club membership, and/or some degree of physical skill. According to PAG, walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking) is considered a moderate-intensity exercise, while running (aka jogging) is considered a vigorous-intensity exercise. Like other aerobic exercises, walking and running have both been shown to lower the risk of premature death, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and depression.1 But is one more beneficial to our health than the other? Let’s take a look.
OVERALL HEALTH BENEFITS
In a 2013 study by Williams and Thompson,3 researchers examined the health data of 33,060 runners and 15,945 walkers from the National Runners’ and Walkers’ Health Study to determine any differences of effect between the two exercises on coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors. They found that, when using an equivalent amount of expended energy, walking and running produced similar risk reductions for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and possibly coronary heart disease.
Running burns 2.5 times more calories than walking does when performed for an equal amount of time.4 In other words, running for 30 minutes will burn 2.5 times more calories than walking for 30 minutes. Many might see this as an advantage to running, especially those who have limited time to exercise or are trying to lose weight. Examining the health data from the National Runners’ and Walkers’ Health Study investigators, a separate study5 found that after 6.2 years of following either a consistent running regimen or consistent walking regimen, people in the running group lost more weight than those in the walking group. While both groups saw an overall reduction in body mass index (BMI), the runners, particularly the men, experienced a significantly greater reduction in BMI than the walkers.
RISK OF INJURY
Running carries a greater risk of injury than walking. In a 2007 meta-analysis evaluating the incidence and associated potential risk factors of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners, van Gent et al6 reported that 1 in 4 (25.9%) runners experienced injuries that were significant enough to restrict their running. Knee injuries were most common, and male runners experienced more injuries than female runners. The investigators concluded that being male, running greater distances per week, and having a history of previous injuries are risk factors for lower extremity running injuries. The high safety factor of walking is probably its greatest advantage over running—maintaining a consistent walking regimen for months or years is possible for many people, whereas maintaining a long-term running regimen might not be possible for some people due to risk for injury.
If you are looking for a relatively simple, inexpensive way to improve your health through physical activity, running and walking are both great choices. When done consistently, they have equally been shown to reduce the risk of premature death, metabolic disorders, and some mood disorders. Between the two, running is more time efficient—you only need to run 1.25 hours a week to enjoy the same level of health benefits that 2.5 hours a week of walking would get you. Running is also more effective for weight loss than walking. But walking has a much higher safety index (less risk for injury) and is easier (requires less physical effort) to do, which might improve your likelihood of staying committed to your exercise regimen. One group of authors7 reasoned that because walking offers the same cardiovascular health benefits as running and is easier to sustain long-term, it might be the way to go for older individuals, those who are prone to injury, and those who are sedentary and out of shape. However, for younger and/or more energetic people, especially those short on time or who want to lose weight, a mix of walking and running is ideal.
1. United States Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion site. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Last updated 12 Oct 2018. https://health. gov/paguidelines/guidelines/. Accessed 12 Oct 2018.
2. Mayoclinic.org site. Aerobic exercise: Top 10 reasons to get physical. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/aerobic- exercise/art-20045541. Accessed 12 Oct 2018.
3. Williams PT, Thompson PD. Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk reduction. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2013 May;33(5):1085–1091.
4. Hall C, Figueroa A, Fernhall B, Kanaley JA. Energy expenditure of walking and running: comparison with prediction equations. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36(12):2128–2134.
5. Williams PT. Greater weight loss from running than walking during a 6.2-yr prospective follow-up. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013;45(4):706–713.
6. van Gent RN, Siem D, van Middelkoop M, et al. Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2007;41:469–480.
7. Wen CP, Wai JP, Tsai MK, Chen CH. Minimal amount of exercise to prolong life: to walk, to run, or just mix it up? J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;4(5):482– 484. NHR