It’s a common debate among fitness enthusiasts. Running or walking. Which is actually “better”?
Most people are quick to point out that running burns more calories than walking. But does it? I don’t mean 30 minutes of running doesn’t burn more calories than 30 minutes of walking. Of course, running burns more calories. But that mainly has to do with going a further distance than walking.
Running or Walking- What are We Measuring?
Most people track their workouts by measuring time. In fact, most workout trackers and calorie trackers measure how long your workout lasted, not how far you traveled. Makes sense– if you are doing a bootcamp style workout, you aren’t traveling anywhere. How can you measure distance?
But when it comes to running or walking, distance may be the defining measurement. Does running three miles burn more calories than walking three miles? And how much of a difference is there really?
To test this out, I checked out three calorie-tracking apps– MyFitnessPal, WebMD’s new Jump Start, and Cronometer. Then I put my math skills to the test. Rather than log a certain amount of time, I figured out how long it would take to do 3-miles at different paces. For simplicity’s sake, I’m using just the whole number paces of 3 mph, 4 mph, 5 mph, and 6 mph.
I realize there are some of you who may walk slower than 3 mph, and there are others who run much faster than 6 mph. But this is a general list, and getting into specifics gets a little too nuanced.
Let’s dive in to discovering which cardio exercise is the calorie-burning king– running or walking.
Oh, as I get started, I must also point out that weight can affect how many calories you burn. So, these calculations are based on my current weight– 155 pounds.
I did the math, and at 3 mph, it would take me an hour to walk three miles. I’m a little ashamed to admit it took me a minute to realize “3 mph” literally stands for 3 miles per hour. I didn’t have to do the math there. But I did.
MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular weight-loss, calorie-tracking apps out there. It listed the calorie burn for a 155-lb female going 3 mph for one hour at 240 calories.
For 4 mph (I did have to do the math here), it would take 45 minutes to go 3 miles. I burn 260 calories. For 36 minutes of running or walking at 5 mph (for some 5 mph is a fast walk, for others, it’s a slow run), I would burn 320 calories. And at 6 mph, it takes 30 minutes to run 3 miles. That is a whopping 340 calories, according to MyFitnessPal. (1)
Jump Start with WebMD
I didn’t realize WebMD had a fitness-tracking app. WebMD is not known as the most reliable health and fitness information on the internet. But the accuracy of tracking your workouts and calories isn’t as important as the consistency of the habit. So, as long as you consistently use your fitness tracker, the better off you will be.
There were some discrepancies between Jump Start and MyFitnessPal, but I expected that. Which is why I tested three apps to test running or walking. But if you want to feel great about calorie-burning, use Jump Start. It was the highest number of the three I tested. Again, it’s not the accuracy, but the consistency that matters when it comes to tracking.
According to this app, at 3 mph, walking for one hour burns 274 calories. You burn 302 calories at 4 mph for 45 minutes. Slow jogging at 5 mph for 3 miles will take 36 minutes, which Jump Start says burns 346 calories. And if you are a cardio-runner, going 3 miles at 6 mph for 30 minutes burns 360 calories. (2)
So, Jump Start shows some higher numbers, but that’s not what I’m really studying. I’m looking at the difference between the speed over distance.
My husband uses Cronometer for logging his food, and I’ve got to say it’s a great app. He upgraded and got the paid version so he can track specific nutrients and vitamins, like sodium, phosphorus, and potassium. The downside, as I did my research on running or walking? They calculate the lowest numbers in terms of calorie burn.
Once again, for those in the back, it’s not about accuracy, it’s consistency. If you use a certain app consistently, it’s not going to matter if the exercise you’re tracking is low or high. Unless you are competing with someone using a different app.
So, Cronometer’s numbers are a little lower, but the difference between the paces of running or walking was nearly the same as the other apps. At 3 mph, walking for an hour burns 224 calories. Respectively, at 4, 5, and 6 mph, you burn 294, 315, and 330 calories. (3)
Which is King: Running or Walking?
Okay, so numbers don’t lie. Obviously, 360 is higher than 274. But look at the difference between the paces:
- 3 mph at 3 miles – 224, 240, and 274
- 4 mph- 260, 294, 302
- 5 mph- 315, 320, 346
- 6 mph- 330, 340, 360
From the absolute slowest to the highest, there is only about 100 calories difference. Considering there is a discrepancy of 40-50 calories between the apps themselves, this isn’t a significant difference.
But compare the paces a little closer, and you’ll find there is even a smaller difference. Only about 20 calories separate 5 mph from 6 mph.
While I will concede that running definitely burns more calories–there’s no disputing that fact– I don’t see a significant difference to say running is definitely better than walking.
Distance Over Time
If you are looking to improve your health and fitness, and aren’t sure whether you should be running or walking, I say go with what feels best. If you enjoy running, go for it. You will burn more calories, and yes, in a shorter span of time. If you want to ease into the activity, or don’t think you can handle running quite yet, don’t worry. Walking comparatively equal distance as someone who runs will burn only slightly fewer calories.
As I’ve also stated throughout the post, what is most important is consistency. Go the distance. Fitness isn’t a time-based or time-limited habit. We are here for the long-haul. If you are new to fitness, perhaps jumping on the running bandwagon isn’t the best path for you. Walking may be a better pace, and get you to your fitness goals.
Where you run or walk matters
Which is better can also depend on where you are running or walking. For me, I prefer walking in general, but I definitely walk on hard surfaces. Concrete, sidewalks, and roads are not my best friends when it comes to impact.
If I incorporate running in a workout, I make sure we have a soft, natural surface to sprint or jog on. And having the right apparel also helps. My husband has a pair of minimalist shoes, which are great for running or walking over any substrate. But we both prefer any running activities on the grass. Soft grass, where I can take my shoes off and run in my bare feet.
Where you run or walk matters also in how the activity affects your health. I firmly believe that outdoor walking trumps indoor running. Experts state that exercising outside, in nature, amplifies the effects of working out by a factor of two. (4) With fresh air, a healthy dose of vitamin D, and beautiful scenery, going outside is typically the best option, especially if your other choice is, well, watching the news on a treadmill.
Running or Walking: The Choice is Yours
Which do you prefer? Running or walking? And how can you consistently make it part of your fitness? Will you go the distance and make this a life-long habit? Keep up the great work, and remember to always train positive.
- MyFitnessPal- myfitnesspal.com
- JumpStart by WebMD- webmd.com/fitness-exercise
- Cronometer- cronometer.com
- Ratey, John. M.D and Manning, Richard. Go Wild. 2014, Little, Brown Spark.