When it comes to shedding extra pounds (and keeping them off), the answer isn’t as simple as how fast you want to get there. Plus, with walking vs. running, there are always personal factors to consider with each option.
So, before you pull on your trainers for a jog or a stroll, remember that any weight loss plan should include balanced, healthy nutrition to fuel your workouts. We also recommend speaking to your physician or medical advisor before starting any significant changes to your diet or exercise.
Walking vs. running: where to start
Before deciding which exercise is best for losing weight, it’s also essential to consider what is best for you and your body.
Making exercise a habit that you can maintain consistently moving forward is a big part of any fitness goal, especially for weight loss. As this 2005 review from the International Journal of Obesity shows, a substantial portion of any weight lost due to temporary adjustments to your diet, exercise, or both, is regained later. So, it is important to focus on making lifestyle changes that you can maintain permanently rather than pursuing a short-term goal.
You’re also more likely to stick with a form of exercise that you enjoy. It’s not worth putting yourself through months of grueling workouts to achieve your goal, only to stop when you do because, as we’ve seen above, any changes are unlikely to stay. So, trying something new is always a great idea, but if you don’t love it, move on and find something else.
A substantial portion of any weight lost due to temporary adjustments to your diet, exercise, or both, is regained later.
So, if you’re trying to decide between walking vs. running, it’s important to discover what you love and feel you can make a part of your weekly schedule. Also, as we mentioned above, there may be medical reasons why one form of exercise is better suited to your body than another, so it’s always a good idea to seek medical advice first.
If you haven’t been physically active over recent months, start walking a few times a week. It is a great way to make exercise a regular part of your everyday life – whether for the first time or something you are reintroducing after a long break.
As your fitness improves, or if you already have an active lifestyle, you can explore options like power-walking, jogging, trail running, or run/walk intervals (see below). If you are new to running, it’s essential to learn how to pace yourself and start gently, rather than trying to run as fast and long as you can at first. It’s a classic mistake for new runners to make and could quickly lead to injury.
Walking vs. running: the data
In simple terms, running and walking each increase the energy your body consumes. However, as there is a different intensity between these two forms of exercise, they naturally consume different amounts of energy.
If you were to run and walk for the same amount of time (for example, a 30-minute walk vs. a 30-minute run), running would use at least twice the amount of energy. If you were to run and walk the same distance (for example, a 5km walk vs. a 5km run), running would still use more energy but with a lower margin.
Polar data shows that the average person walks at around 4.5km/hour. However, when our walking speed reaches more than 7km/hour, it actually becomes more ‘economical’ for our bodies to start running. This means that your body has to do more work (and thus, use more energy) to maintain a faster power-walking speed than running the same distance.
Walking vs. running: weight-loss and research
What does all of this mean for weight loss? This is where your diet comes into play. If you’ve exercised before, you’ll know how an insatiable post-workout hunger feels. It’s a natural response to all the energy we just burnt. However, if your goal is to exercise to lose weight, then having a big binge after every workout won’t enable that to happen.
Make sure you have a healthy, nourishing snack ready for as soon as you’ve finished a power walk or run so that you aren’t tempted to overeat. Better still, plan your workouts to be just before a meal, so you can eat straight after you’re done. That way, you’re maintaining the same nutrition while increasing your exercise.
A 2013 study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal looked at a whopping 45,000 people to compare walking vs. running.
Interestingly, a 2014 review by Oregon State University, USA, suggests that working out suppresses the appetite in exercise-trained men. However, the evidence regarding women is limited and mixed in its findings.
If you’re looking for a clear and scientific answer to the question, “is walking or running better for weight loss?” then here it is. A 2013 study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal looked at a whopping 45,000 people to compare walking vs. running. The results showed that running was a significantly more effective form of exercise for weight loss than walking.
People often talk about walking vs. running as if it’s some ultimate showdown where there can only be one winner. The good news is: you can do both. Mix it up. Enjoy some walking days and some running ones. Pay attention to how you feel each day (and what your recovery data says as well) to make an informed decision about what is best for you.
You can also mix things up in every session, trying some walking and some running time. Maybe warm up with a long walk and run the last section home. Or start on a run and then ease that into a walk.
Another approach is to try the run/walk intervals. It’s a form of interval training where high-intensity bursts (in this case, running) are paired with low-intensity moments (such as walking). It’s similar to the run/walk method, also known as the Jeff Galloway method, which he developed as an injury-free marathon training program for new runners and those returning from injury.
You can try run/walk intervals on a track, treadmill, or trail. All you have to do is plan how long each interval will take. For example, you could do three intervals of a five-minute run followed by a one-minute walk and increase the pace of your run with each interval. Alternatively, you could do an interval where you run up a hill and then walk back down it again. Always make sure your first and last interval is an easy one so that you can warm up and cool down as part of your workout.
While research shows that running is a more effective form of exercise for weight loss than walking, choosing a workout you enjoy and can maintain long-term will be the best option for reaching any fitness goals.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.