Walking or Running: What’s Better for Weight Loss?

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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Walking or Running: What’s Better for Weight Loss?

When it comes to heart health, lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases, walking and running can both have a positive impact. And while you’ll still burn calories and lose weight with a consistent workout routine, no matter which exercise you choose, there’s a lot of debate over which activity is actually the most effective for shedding extra pounds.

Although you’d need to walk for a much longer duration to burn the same number of calories as a higher-intensity exercise like running, are calories burned the ultimate determining factor in weight loss? Does it matter which exercise you choose as long as you’re burning calories? A few recent studies have tried to shed light on the subject to determine which exercise is best for anyone attempting to lose weight.


A six-year survey published by Medicine & Science in Sports Exercise at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory collected data from more than 15,000 walkers and 30,000 runners to determine which group lost and maintained weight more efficiently across this time span.

In 55-year-old subjects, whose calorie expenditure per week was roughly the same in runners and walkers, body mass index and waist circumference was much lower in runners than walkers. Likewise, when measuring the 25% heaviest test subjects, researchers found calories burned by running led to 90% greater weight loss than it did for calories burned by walking alone.

While it’s hard to compare apples to oranges because overall exercise intensities are quite different, the Berkeley study noted that when runners and walkers burn the same amount of calories each week, runners were generally able to control their weight more efficiently over time and were leaner overall.

Why this is the case isn’t exactly clear, and though it wasn’t the overall aim of the research to answer this question, the after-burn effect of higher-intensity exercise could be one likely cause. Studies like this one show vigorous exercises increase your metabolic rate and burn more calories during the 14 hours following exercise than lower-intensity activities like walking. And because overall workout time is significantly lower, it’s more likely that it’s easier to maintain a consistent routine.


Another reason running may have a leg up on walking when it comes to weight loss is calorie consumption after a workout. In a study published in the Journal of Obesity, researchers investigated the hormonal regulators of appetite in female runners and walkers to see which group was more likely to overeat following a 60-minute workout.


Post-exercise, all participants of the study were invited to a buffet where they could pick and choose their meal. Walkers ate 50 calories more than they burned during exercise, while runners actually ate 200 fewer calories than were lost during exercise. Runners also had higher levels of peptide YY in the body — a blood hormone that suppresses appetite. Walkers, on the other hand, had no increase.

This appetite suppression among runners is one example of how a vigorous exercise like running can help to avoid overeating and lead to more weight loss over time.


While research might show running is a more effective way to lose weight when compared to walking, there are other factors to consider. As far as overall health is concerned, walking can lower heart disease, cholesterol levels and blood pressure even more than running.

When you factor in the overall stress running places on the body as well as the increased risk of injury, walking may be the better alternative for some individuals with a history of lower-extremity injuries. Overtraining and being more prone to illness from a weak immune system are also more likely to occur with runners than walkers. Since all of these things can keep you from training for long periods of time, walking shouldn’t be discounted completely.

You may lose more weight with a running routine then you will walking per hour of exercise, but the best plan — and the one you’ll lose the most weight doing — is the one you enjoy the most and are able to stick with for the long haul.

If you dislike running but find walking is more relaxing and an activity you look forward to, then stick with that. No matter which activity you choose, you will see positive results in your weight and health if you are consistent.


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About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.