COVID-19 has changed our fitness routines in a lot of different ways. But one of the biggest? It’s inspired people to get outside and log some miles. According to a recent 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 running vs. walking, which one reigns supreme?
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.”
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.”
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.
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 runspiration? Try this endurance workout, led by Nike run coach Jes Woods.