Which exercise is "better" for you - running or walking?

‘Romance’ is the last word anyone would associate with exercise, but it’s hard to deny running has a certain romantic appeal.

Perhaps it’s the the power of using your own two legs to get from A to B, and fast. Perhaps it’s the head-clearing powers of the wind whipping through your hair as you run along the coastline. Perhaps it’s the excuse to wear fancy leggings.

Whatever it is, there’s something about running that transforms ordinary people into evangelicals. However, appealing as it might seem, running seems like an unreachable dream for many of us. Enter: walking.

A good brisk walk is surely just as effective as a run, we reason as runners smugly dart around us on the footpath. Plus, it won’t mess up my knees.

So, is there a winner in this footpath war? Is running inherently “better” for you than walking, or is walking the underrated dark horse?

As you’ve probably guessed, there’s no simple answer to that question. According to Exercise and Sports Science Australia’s Industry Development Officer, Alex Lawrence, it’s dependent on a number of factors — most of which come down to the individual.

Watch: A bodyweight circuit you can do at home. (Post continues after video.)


“You have the public health standpoint where something is better than nothing. If you’re likely to walk but not run then for that person walking would be ‘better’ and vice versa,” Lawrence explains.

“From an exercise prescription standpoint, I would highlight that everyone is different, with unique considerations and needs, and with that in mind the ‘better’ modality will depend on the individual and their goals.”

In terms of fitness, calorie burn and energy expenditure, most of us would assume running comes out on top. This is the case, but walking doesn’t come off too badly, either.

“In terms of energy expenditure, exercising at lower intensities (walking) results in a higher percentage of fat metabolism,” Lawrence explains.

“However, when you exercise at moderate-high intensity (running), even though the percentage of fat metabolised is lower, because you are expending significantly more energy in total, the overall fat metabolised is higher.”

Yes, you'll burn more calories through running. (iStock)

To put that more simply, Lawrence gives the following example.

"If someone was to walk for 30 minutes burning 100 calories, and if 70 per cent of those calories came from fat, they would have burned 70 calories from fat," he says.

"Alternatively, if that person was to run for 30 minutes, burning a total of 300 calories, 30 per cent from fat, that individual would burn 90 calories from fat. So, in this case the exercise that is higher in intensity wins out."


As for general health benefits, there's evidence that both walking and running can help prevent illness and prolong a person's life. (Post continues after gallery.)

However, it appears running delivers these benefits more efficiently. For instance, a 2014 study concluded that five minutes of running per day provides the same benefits as 15 minutes of walking, in terms of reducing mortality.

The injury risk of running vs. walking is another significant consideration. In this instance, it's walkers who have permission to feel smug.

"Running, as opposed to walking, requires a higher level of technical proficiency and places a lot more demand on the body, as such, the risk of injury is higher," Lawrence explains.

That said, the higher impact of running has big beneficial for your bone health, so don't rule it out. "We reach peak bone mass at about 25 years old, so it is really important that we expose our bones to high impact exercise in our youth," Lawrence says.

Not usually one to post a paparazzi shot but this fills me with pride. Basically my whole life I have hated running and run like a wounded baby Pterodactyl. It was embarrassing and honestly I did not trust myself to escape a burning building or even move briskly towards a buffet. @jennikonner is directing the season finale of Girls and decided that as Hannah evolved so would her run, so she got me a training session with Matt Wilpers from Mile High Run Club. Within an hour I had a different relationship to this formerly torturous activity. I felt strong, swift and proud. I'm not about to embrace that triathlon life but it's a true joy to continue getting more connected to my body and its powers. (Extra motivation provided by @manrepeller for @outdoorvoices.) #moveforyourmind

A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on Jul 29, 2015 at 3:58pm PDT


Image: Lena Dunham is a recent convert to running. (Instagram)

Ultimately, the modality that's "best" for a certain individual comes down to their physical capabilities and their reasons for wanting to exercise. The first question Lawrence asks a client when recommending a fitness regimen is "Why?"

"From there, it is a matter of performing a comprehensive assessment of their medical history, physical capabilities and exercise history, as well as a comprehensive physical assessment to check for sub-optimal biomechanics and movement patterns," he explains.

"An example of an individual that I would recommend walking over running could be someone living with a severe case of osteoporosis [or] someone that maybe at increased risk of falling. This maybe a result of neuro-physical consideration or side effects of prescription medications."

What do you prefer - walking or running?

Featured image: iStock