According to a survey by the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association (IHRSA), 53 percent of people are going for walks and runs more often than they were pre-pandemic. And with seemingly everyone out there pounding the pavement, it’s left us wondering: In the battle between walking vs. running, which one reigns supreme?
Is it better to walk or run?
Generally, running tends to get a reputation for being a “better” workout than walking, but that’s not necessarily the case. “People will typically burn more calories while they run compared to when they walk but that doesn’t mean it’s a ‘better’ workout by any means,” says Steve Stonehouse, NASM CPT, USATF certified run coach and director of education for STRIDE “There are a lot of factors that will decide which would be ‘better’ and they’re mostly specific to the individual.”
Walking is also usually touted as an easier option, but that’s not always true, either. “You can perform a well-designed walking workout, and it can be very difficult,” says Stonehouse. “Variables like speed, incline, and duration will all impact the effectiveness of your workout. An easy-paced 30-minute walk will not produce the same results as a high-intensity speed workout for a running, but the same goes for an easy-paced run and a walking workout including different grades of incline.”
The benefits of running
An efficient exercise that activates your muscles, running and longevity go together like PB&J. Jogging has also been shown to benefit your endurance, heart health, mood, and sleep. The benefits of slow jogging add to that list, but it also increases endurance.
The benefits of walking
Walking is one of the most accessible forms of exercise there is that is also easy on your joints. Walking for brain health means this form of movement will help keep your noodle smart as well as your body healthy.
What equipment do you need?
A good pair of shoes is tantamount to making the most of your run, walk, or jog. Walking vs. running shoes differ in the amount of support and cushioning they give, versus how light they’ll keep you on your feet. Here’s Well+Good’s guide to our favorite walking shoes and our favorite running shoes for different types of feet.
Walking vs. running: Which is “better” for you?
To help you figure out which workout is the best for you (which, BTW, is not the same as simply being “the best”), we pitted the two modalities against each other in six different categories, depending on what you’re looking for. But one important thing to keep in mind? “It’s not about walking versus running. It’s about learning how to incorporate both to get the best workout possible while keeping it safe and effective,” says Stonehouse. Because no matter how fast you’re moving, the fact that you’re moving your body is enough to be proud of.
For your joints: Walking
If you’re looking for a workout that’s low impact but still effective, walking is the clear winner. “Walking puts less impact on your joints, primarily because one foot is in contact with the ground at all times, whereas with running, you’re leaving the ground with both feet on every step,” says Stonehouse. “Depending on your efficiency, the pounding can add up with the miles you’re logging.”
Runners are also at a greater risk of injury than walkers, and one study found that men who run or jog are 25 percent more likely to wind up with issues in their feet, Achilles tendons, and tibias. But if you do want to speed things up? “Runners can decrease their risk of injury by building up slowly—often ‘too much, too soon’ is where problems can come in,” says Betsy Magato, Charge running coach. “Working under the guidance of a coach or following a plan can help avoid this.”
For when you’re short on time: Running
According to Magato, a two-mile run and a two-mile walk will deliver the same benefit—running will just allow you to do it faster. “Thirty minutes of running is equal to about 60 minutes of walking,” she says. “If you only have 30 minutes to dedicate to a workout, a run might be best, but if you have an hour, a walk may be better.”
For recovery: Walking
Any trainer will tell you that you can’t operate with a “go hard or go home” attitude in every workout, and walks are a great option when you want to take it easy while still getting some movement in. “The day after a hard workout, a walk is a great form of active recovery,” says Magato. Plus, walks are a great way to increase your overall mileage, particularly if you’re prone to injury.
For your body mechanics: Running
When you go for a walk, your body tends to stay in the same position the entire time, whereas with running, you’re changing things up as you move at different speeds and incline. “There’s value in putting your body in those slightly different positions,” says Stonehouse. Holding your shoulders back as you run has beneficial impacts on both your core strength and your posture, which come in handy long after you’ve reached the finish line.
For longevity: Running or walking
Researchers have found that both running and walking regularly can have significant impacts on your overall health. A 2003 study on 33,000 runners and 16,000 walkers found that over six years, both activities led to similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. Plus, both activities offer the same types of benefits for your mental health. “Being active improves quality of life, and both running and walking can help improve your mood, build self-confidence, and help you deal with stress,” says Magato.
Consider a run-walk or running slowly
If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, why not combine the two? A walk-run is how everybody from couch-to-5Kers, to marathoners, train to increase endurance. You get the heart rate spikes of running, but the lower impact and longevity of walking.
Mike Curry, a CPT and the founder of Strongboard Balance, advises his clients to try the “rog:” “It’s a little faster than a jog, but it’s slower than a run, with higher knees so that you get a little more flexing, but you’re coming down more flatfooted versus heel to toe, which can be very hard on the joints,” Curry says.
What is the Japanese running method?
Another name for a pace that you can sustain for a long time is the Japanese running method, AKA the “niko-niko” or “smile” jogging method. Created by Hiroaki Tanaka, PhD, professor at Fukuoka University in Japan, this is a pace where you should be able to run and still sing your favorite song. You can also calculate it based on your age and heart rate, trying to achieve 50% of your VO2 max: keep your heart rate at 138 minus [your age divided by two] beats per minute.
Is it better to walk fast or jog slow?
Curry says to maximize the cardiovascular benefits of walking, jogging, or running, while minimizing the potential for damage to your joints, he advises clients to power walk.
“Walking—not strolling—at a fast pace, as fast as you can go before you run, is gonna be the most efficient,” Curry says.
At the same time, Curry says “to each their own.” It’s really about what you enjoy, and what’s going to get you out there moving.
Is it better to run for 30 minutes or walk for an hour?
A longer fast-paced walk and a shorter slower paced run deliver the same cardiovascular and health benefits, which is why the World Health Organization recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate activity per week, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
So, which one should you choose?
“Both running and walking have their benefits—and both can be included in the same fitness plan,” says Stonehouse. “The ‘best’ really depends on what you like and are going to do consistently.” If you love to run, great! You can do that whenever you want. But if a good, long walk is more your speed? Also great! Both modalities have their own place in any fitness routine—it’s all about figuring out what works for you based on what your goals are, and which one will keep you moving.
Need a little running inspiration? Try this endurance workout, led by Nike run coach Jes Woods: