Is Walking or Running Better For Weight Loss? (10+ Studies)

Is Walking or Running Better For Weight Loss? (10+ Studies)Even though running is a great form of exercise, it’s a high-impact activity that not everyone can do easily. If you’re trying to lose weight, you may wonder if you can still reach your goals by walking instead.

So is walking or running better for weight loss? Running is better for weight loss because it burns more calories in a shorter time. But if you’re unable to run or just don’t like doing it, walking can also help you lose weight. However, whether you choose to run or walk for exercise, diet is the most important component of a successful weight loss plan.

When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s important to also keep up with a strength training routine so you don’t lose too much lean muscle. 

The Fitbod app can help you customize a resistance training program that complements your cardio routine and recommends exercises based on how well you’ve recovered from your previous workouts. 

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Benefits of Cardio Exercise

benefits of cardio exercise

Cardio exercise is beneficial not only for weight loss but also for overall health and well-being. Some of the many benefits of cardio exercise are that it:

  • Increases HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is commonly known as the “good” cholesterol because it carries other types of cholesterol to the liver so the liver can eliminate it from the body. Research has shown that an average of 120 minutes of aerobic exercise per week can increase HDL cholesterol levels.
  • Can help improve sleep quality. One study revealed that adults with insomnia were able to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer after engaging in an aerobic exercise routine for 16 weeks. The participants also reported less drowsiness throughout the day.
  • Improves symptoms of depression. Researchers in Korea discovered that getting 5 hours of exercise per week can boost self-esteem and improve depression symptoms. Other studies have also shown a positive association between exercise and the reduction of depression symptoms in women.
  • Improves memory and brain health. Some studies show that aerobic exercise increases volume in the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. As such, it can be used as a preventative measure against conditions like dementia and help prevent cognitive decline.

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4 Differences Between Walking and Running

Even though most of the differences between walking and running are obvious, it’s important to understand them to determine which will be better for your weight loss goals.

The main differences between walking and running are:

  • Running burns more calories
  • Walking is lower impact
  • Walking has a lower risk of injury
  • Running is less likely to cause arthritis

1. Running Burns More Calories

Between walking and running, running burns more calories.

How many calories you burn depends on your body weight and exercise intensity. But in general, a 160lb person burns 606 calories per hour running at a 5 mph pace but only 314 calories per hour walking at a 3.5 mph pace.

Related Article: Burning 1000 Calories: 7 Ways To Do It + How Long It Takes

2. Walking Is Lower Impact

As you can probably guess, walking is the lower-impact option.

Running places a lot of stress on your feet and joints. Your body absorbs nearly three times the amount of your body weight with each stride when you run. But when you walk, your feet don’t pound the ground the same way they do when you run, so your joints don’t have to absorb as much force.

This makes walking more ideal for those with injuries, the elderly, overweight individuals, and those who are new to exercise. It’s also a better option for anyone who lifts weights and wants to reduce stress on the legs. 

3. Walking Has a Lower Risk of Injury

Running can lead to issues such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, stress fractures, meniscus injuries, muscle strains, and patellofemoral syndrome (pain in the front of the knee). But because walking is easier on the joints, it doesn’t have as high a risk of injuries.

It’s important to note that most running injuries are due to a sudden increase in distance per week and a previous history of injuries. Walking can also cause many of the same injuries that running does, especially if you overdo it. But studies have shown that both men and women are less likely to become injured from walking than from running.

Related Article: Cardio For Beginners: 6 Mistakes To Avoid (Plus 3 Workouts)

4. Running Is Less Likely To Cause Arthritis

Interestingly, even though running can cause more injuries than walking, research suggests that runners are less likely to develop arthritis than people who walk.

A review of 25 studies that comprised more than 125,000 participants revealed that only 3.5% of recreational runners developed arthritis in the hips and/or knees while 10.2% of sedentary individuals developed arthritis.

There is a higher risk of arthritis in competitive runners who run more than 25-30 miles per week. But based on the results from the studies reviewed in the meta-analysis, we can assume that running 25 miles or less per week can protect against hip and knee arthritis.

Can You Lose More Weight Walking or Running? (What the Science Says)

can you lose more weight walking or running

Because running burns more calories, you can lose more weight running. One study showed that running can result in 90% more weight loss over several years than walking. Another study showed that running produces a greater post-exercise energy expenditure (how many calories your body continues to burn after exercise) than walking. 

Research also shows running can suppress your appetite (especially during and immediately afterward) while walking can increase it. This can lead people who walk to overeat, which can make it more difficult to lose weight.

That said, this doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want and expect to lose weight just because you run several miles multiple days per week.

It’s also important to remember that calorie intake is the most important element of a successful weight loss program. Many people overestimate how many calories they burn through exercise and try to “eat back” the calories they thought they burned. This can cause you to eat more calories than you’re burning, which will lead to weight gain no matter what.

What the research says about running being more effective for weight loss also doesn’t mean that you absolutely have to do it if you want to drop a few pounds.

Walking can still be effective for weight loss as long as you’re mindful of your calorie intake, even though it doesn’t burn as many calories as running. 

Research shows that walking for 30 minutes 5 days a week is just as effective as walking for 60 minutes 5 days a week when combined with a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn each day).

And beyond weight loss, walking and running have similar health benefits. Research shows that walking and running are equally effective at reducing the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and possibly coronary heart disease.

Key Takeaways: Running is shown to be more effective at burning more calories and aiding in weight loss. But the biggest contributor to weight loss is diet, and walking can also help you lose weight if you’re in a calorie deficit. Running and walking both also provide similar health benefits, so either activity can be a good choice if you want to live a healthier lifestyle.

Related Article: 10 Types Of Cardio Workouts For Fat Loss (That Actually Work)

Is Walking or Running Better for Losing Belly Fat?

Just like running is more effective at burning more calories and helping you lose weight more quickly, it’s also more effective for losing belly fat. 

According to one study, individuals who ran 20 miles per week at a vigorous pace lost more visceral fat and overall body fat than those who walked 12 miles per week. The walking group did lose several inches from their waists and hips, but not as much as the running group did.

Another study revealed that individuals who do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in the form of running lose more visceral fat (internal fat that surrounds the organs) than those who do HIIT on a bike. Although riding a bike isn’t the same as walking, we can assume that the same conclusion applies to walking since cycling and walking are both low-impact activities.

Related Article: Beginner HIIT Treadmill Workout: Starting With HIIT Cardio

However, where your weight loss comes from will depend largely on your genetics. You can’t control exactly where you lose fat. If you’re genetically inclined to carry extra weight in your midsection, you may never have a completely flat stomach or a six-pack even if other areas on your body get lean from running or walking.

Of course, losing belly fat is also dependent on diet. If you eat more calories than you burn each day, no amount or type of exercise will help you get leaner. You need to be in a calorie deficit in order to lose weight on the scale and decrease your overall body fat.

4 Tips for Making Running Easier

If you decide you do want to take up running to help boost your weight loss efforts, there are ways to make it easier and reduce your risk of injury and burnout.

1. Start Slow

Trying to run for 5 miles when you’ve never run before isn’t the smartest decision. Even if you’re active in other ways, running is a whole different animal and can be a shock to your system if you’re not used to it.

It’s best to start slow and build yourself up to running longer distances and for longer unbroken periods. This includes taking walking breaks whenever you need to.

A good place to start is to run for 1 minute and walk for 1 minute for a total of 20 minutes. You can then increase your running intervals by 30 seconds each week and decrease your rest periods by 10 seconds until you’re able to run for several minutes without stopping.

2. Wear Proper Footwear

If you plan on running frequently or want to build up to running more than a couple of miles, you need a pair of shoes that suits the shape of your foot, your stride, and your body weight.

For example, flat-footed individuals should look for a running shoe with more arch support than those with neutral or high arches. A good running shoe can also offer support and keep your feet in proper alignment if your ankles roll inward (i.e., you overpronate) or outward (i.e., you supinate) while still allowing for some natural movement as you run.

Furthermore, heavier runners need a shoe that supports the extra weight but doesn’t have too much cushioning, which can cause instability.

Visiting a running store that offers gait analysis is a great place to start if you’re not sure what kind of running shoe is best for you.

3. Don’t Rely Only on Running

Unless you’re training for a 5k or a marathon, running doesn’t need to be the only cardio exercise you get. Using different cardio machines and forms of exercise can help prevent overuse injuries, allow you to train different muscle groups, and prevent you from getting bored while maintaining or improving your cardiovascular fitness.

Strength training is also important when you take up a running routine. This will allow you to strengthen your leg muscles and connective tissues, improve your coordination, and develop more speed and power.

If you’re looking for a strength training routine you can do in combination with running, check out the Fitbod app. You can choose which muscle groups you want to focus on and customize your workouts based on how much time and equipment you have. The app can also provide pre- or post-workout cardio options if you prefer to run directly before or after a resistance training workout. Try Fitbod for free!

4. Accept That Running Is Uncomfortable

Running is supposed to make you uncomfortable. It’s physically and mentally challenging, and even the best runners have days where they struggle. You’ll get faster and be able to run for longer distances over time if you run consistently, but it won’t be easy all the time.

Too many people give up quickly because they get frustrated when running doesn’t start to feel easier after just a few weeks. 

That said, if you give running a try for several weeks or months and still don’t enjoy it, you don’t have to force yourself to do it. But embracing the fact that there will be good days and bad days can make the whole running process more tolerable.

Related Article: Cardio Other Than Running: 12 Examples If You Hate Running

How To Make Walking More Challenging

how to make walking more challenging

If you’re still hesitant to start running but walking feels too easy, there are several ways you can make walking more challenging.

1. Change Your Incline

Walking at an incline is more difficult than walking on a flat road. You have to work harder to walk uphill, which increases your heart rate and engages more of your leg muscles.

You can increase the incline if you’re on a treadmill or find a route with hills if you’re outdoors. You can also try to find some stairs or uneven terrain to walk on to challenge your lower body muscles, balance, and coordination.

2. Wear a Weighted Vest

Studies have shown that wearing a weighted vest with 10% of your body weight increases your VO2 max (the amount of oxygen your body uses during exercise) more than walking alone. It can also improve your core strength because your core has to work hard to keep your upper body from collapsing under the weight.

If you don’t have a weighted vest, you can throw some heavy books, weight plates, or a dumbbell in a backpack.

3. Incorporate Intervals

You can make a simple 30-minute walk more challenging by incorporating intervals. For example, you can alternate between 2 minutes of walking at a faster pace and 1 minute of walking at a slower recovery pace.

You still won’t burn the same amount of calories you would if you were running, but you can burn more calories than you would if you walked at a steady pace the entire time.

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

Final Thoughts

Between walking and running, running is better for weight loss because it burns more calories in less time. It’s also been shown to be more effective at burning belly fat than walking.

However, walking and running share many of the same health benefits outside of weight loss, including lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and reduced risk of disease. And walking is also effective for weight loss when combined with a calorie deficit.

If you don’t enjoy running or can’t do it because of a physical limitation, you can still reach your weight loss goals as long as you’re eating in a calorie deficit.

About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.