Walking vs running - which is better for you?

Weighing up the benefits of walking vs running...

woman running outside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are you weighing up walking vs running and wondering which one is best for you? The simple answer is that walking and running are equally great ways to exercise and doing either one regularly will keep you fit and healthy. But, if you're keen to know about the benefits of each, you're in the right place. 

Are you debating whether to invest in the best women's walking shoes or the best women's running shoes? Are you wondering whether your time is better spent pounding the pavements three times a week or having a leisurely stroll every day? The good news is, whichever activity you choose you will reap rewards for your physical health and mental wellbeing. 

But, if you're still undecided about which one to commit to then it's time to weigh up the pros and cons of both forms of exercise... 

Walking vs running - what are the benefits?

Walking, running, or doing any form of physical activity will help you to stay in shape. The NHS recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. 

And walking at a moderate or brisk pace, or going for a jog, are activities that can help you to meet this target. 

Plus, the bonus of choosing walking or running as your go-to workout is that they’re cheap and easy ways to exercise. They can also be adapted to suit different levels of fitness.

What are the benefits of walking?

The benefits of walking are endless. This is because getting outside for a walk in nature also boosts emotional wellbeing. A daily dose of fresh air and time to clear your mind can ease work and home-related stress and reduce feelings of anxiety.

“Always opt to walk overtaking the car wherever possible, and go for walks as often as you can, as this will make a big difference to both your physical and mental health,” says Aisling O’Malley, a physiotherapist at London Bridge Hospital

And, while walking may be slower than running, walking workouts can still burn calories. “Not only does walking give you a cardiovascular workout which is good for the heart and lungs, but it also helps you to strengthen the main muscles of your lower limbs and aids in maintaining healthy bone density,” says Aisling.

Woman wearing pink trainers

(Image credit: Getty / bogdankosanovic)

How much should you walk?

You don’t need to scout out the best walking socks and hike for miles to get the benefits. Even a short daily walk will ward off the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle. 

Research shows that just ten minutes of brisk walking a day for a week reduces the risk of early death by 15%. 

Another study from the University of Exeter found that a short, brisk walk helped people reduce their intake of high-calorie snack foods by half – contributing to weight loss when a walking habit is maintained over time. 

Plus, it is possible to set out walking for weight loss, but you may have to increase your speed or vary the gradient for this. 

“If you’re trying to hit your moderate-intensity aerobic target, that means you can still hold a conversation while walking but have an increased rate and depth of breathing,” says Aisling.

“If you’re going for a brisk walk to meet the vigorous-intensity target, you need to walk as if you’re late for an important meeting. Not a stroll, but more of a purposeful stride.”

What are the benefits of running?

According to a survey by Sports England, 22% of adults took up running on a weekly basis during the pandemic – getting all the body benefits that you would on a walk, and more. 

“Running increases cardio fitness, strengthens and tones your legs, tum and bum and builds strong bones,” says Steven Virtue, fitness content and programming manager at Total Fitness

Running also releases powerful feel-good endorphins – known as the “runner’s high.” Research shows that running for 30 minutes, three times a week, over several months could have mood-boosting effects and help alleviate symptoms of depression. 

How often should you run?

“Start running three times a week, but be prepared to slow down or walk if you’re just starting out,” says running coach Nick Anderson.

If you are a complete beginner then it’s OK to alternate walking with running for 30 minutes. It's a good way to start running and build up to 5km. 

Try a walk-run strategy of running for one minute and then walking for four minutes. This may seem slow at first, but it’s a proven way to slowly build strength and endurance while avoiding an injury.

Already a keen runner? Researchers at the University of South Carolina also found that clocking up 20 miles per week could help you live longer. Just make sure you're equipped with a pair of the best workout leggings to keep you comfortable while you're running.

Woman in trainers walking

(Image credit: Getty / Luca Sage)

Walking vs running - how many calories can you burn?

Both running and walking at a good pace are effective ways to shed body fat and lose weight. 

But exactly how many calories you’ll burn depends on several factors. Your speed, the distance you cover, your body weight and your overall level of fitness will all determine your calorie expenditure during a session. 

Walking: calories burnt per hour

  • Leisurely stroll Around 150 calories, walking at two miles per hour 
  • Moderate pace Around 220 calories, walking at three miles per hour
  • Brisk walk Around 300 calories walking, at four miles per hour

Running: calories burnt per hour

  • Light jog Around 550 calories, running at five miles per hour 
  • Steady run Around 680 calories, running at six miles per hour  
  • Strenuous pace Around 780 calories, running at seven miles per hour 

Do you like to head off the beaten track when running or walking? Then you could burn 10% more calories than you would when stomping the pavements. 

The challenge of different terrains and gradients helps to improve fitness and builds body strength. When navigating forest trails or rocky paths you'll engage your core and leg muscles more often and develop stronger muscles in your calves, ankles and feet.

You may need a pair of the best trail running shoes for women, which will offer feet more protection and keep you stable on rocky terrain. 

Aim to reach 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. Work out your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from the number 220. Investing in one of the best fitness trackers can also help you keep track of your heart rate on-the-go.

Walking vs running: the conclusion 

When it comes to comparing walking vs running – you’ll find both offer considerable gains depending on your health goals. Incorporate either into your weekly routine and you’ll notice positive physical changes fairly quickly. 

The benefits of both running and walking include a leaner body, healthier weight and improved mobility. Long-term you’ll also prevent the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer. 

So, what are you waiting for?

Ali Horsfall

Senior Health Writer Ali Horsfall has almost 15 years experience as a journalist and has written for national print titles and women’s lifestyle brands including woman&home, Woman, Woman's Own, BBC magazines, Mothercare, Grazia and The Independent. She currently specialises in health and fitness content and loves sharing the best expert advice on staying well.