Walking vs. Running

Walking vs. Running

I have heard that walking is just as effective for burning calories as running. Which do you recommend for maximizing weight loss? – Rochelle G., Email

Let me first say that both walking and running can be great exercise methods for releasing fat and improving your physical fitness. However, the answer to which is more effective at burning calories continues to be debated by fitness enthusiasts.

The reason for the ongoing debate as to which is more effective at burning calories is due to the old school way of thinking that says no matter what speed we move, we’re expending around 100 calories per mile when moving over level ground. Whether you walk, crawl or sprint a mile, the thought is that you still burned 100 calories. Though this is widely accepted as truth, there are recent studies that say different.

Researchers at Syracuse University conducted a study in December of 2004 where they measured the calorie expenditure of 12 male and 12 female participants as they both ran and walked for 1,600 meters on a track and treadmill. Each participant ran at one specific pace and walked at one specific pace. The scientists, headed by Jill A. Kanaley, PhD in the Department of Exercise Science, found that both the women and men burned more than twice the calories when running versus walking.

To the contrary, there was a study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine where participants walked for five minutes at various paces ranging from four to 10.4 kilometers per hour and ran for five minutes at paces from 7.2 to 10.4 kilometers per hour. The study concluded that walking burns more calories than running at speeds greater than eight kilometers per hour (five miles per hour).

Two studies, two different outcomes. Who’s right? The truth is this: both walking and running can be more effective than the other. The determining factor is largely based on your output – the intensity of your pace.

Generally speaking however, running does burn more calories than walking. The reason is that the mechanics of running and walking are different. In short, when running, the faster you move the greater the impact on your legs, which results in using more calories to absorb these forces and to propel yourself with the next stride. The downside to these higher impact forces is a higher risk of injury and likelihood to damage your knees, hips and back over the long haul.

With regard to running being more effective than walking, notice I said “generally speaking” because walking at an increasingly fast pace can be more difficult than running. One of my clients Gloria Tracy is a “master walker” and I had a difficult time keeping up with her pace without having to run. She helped me discover a greater respect for walking and how difficult it can be. (Gloria walked her way to releasing 50 pounds of fat while in her 60s).

To help you understand the mechanics of how walking can burn more calories than running, it helps to understand what makes these methods of exercise different. First of all, when running you are often airborne (meaning both feet are off the ground). This is one of the key reasons why runners can burn fewer calories than walking – a runner is able to run faster, cover a greater distance in a shorter amount of time with less effort than that of a walker.

When walking you always have one foot on the ground. This is a true health benefit when compared to running because your body weight is always supported and this equates to an even load on your leg – less stress and potential damage to your knees, hips and back.

Put it to the test

To walk at a speed of five miles per hour where one foot is always on the ground is quite difficult compared to a slow jog at the same speed. If you don’t believe me, put it to the test and I am sure you’ll think differently after about 10 minutes. And for those who think negatively about running and are concerned with the risk of injury, increase the pace and shorten the time. For example, if you were to build up to running three miles in 18 minutes, you’re likely to burn twice as many calories as running three miles in 30 to 40 minutes.

Lastly, whether you walk or run, the determining factor for maximizing weight loss and improving your physical fitness is your pace. So, pick up the pace regardless of the race!


Robert Ferguson is the Health Ambassador of Stayhealthy, Inc., founder of Diet Free Life, nutritionist, fitness professional and Board Member on the Presidential Task Force on Obesity for the National Medical Association. He’s been dubbed the “America’s Fat Loss Coach and is considered a leading voice on wellness and weight loss.

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