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

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.

THE AFTER-BURN

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.

EATING AFTER EXERCISE

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.


READ MORE > HOW WALKING BENEFITS YOUR RUNNING


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.

OTHER FACTORS

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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  • philo7

    I think if you look at this from a creation viewpoint it makes a lot of sense. God made it so that walking is a highly efficient motion, almost to the point that it does not burn calories. This would aid in survival, in times when man’s biggest problem was not over-consumption of calories but rather finding enough calories.

    There is also something about running that is seldom mentioned that I think is beneficial: the movement of muscles and body parts due to the bouncing. I believe the body’s efforts to minimize or counteract this motion also make our bodies look better. When you first start running after a long time off it feels very uncomfortable at first (and I’m a male.)

    • Steve

      Now that is funny.

    • Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos

      “almost to the point that it does not burn calories”. Huh???

  • Anonymous Is A Woman

    First, any study that has one sample group – the runners – that is twice as large as the other sample group – the walkers – is going to be skewed in its results. Only 15,000 walkers and 30,000 runners: seriously? That’s not an accurate statistical sampling right there. Then once you admit you are comparing apples to oranges, game over for any intelligent discussion about study results. You can’t accurately compare apples to oranges and get any credible results. Further, the after burn effect from running is minimal, maybe an extra 100 calories per day. It’s a theory that has been debunked as a significant contributor to weight loss. And even if it were valid, HIIT would be a better option for boosting after burn.

    If the runners ate less than they burned it’s because they ran at an intensity and duration that they burned more calories. And they may have been more serious than the walkers about watching calorie intake. The truth is nobody loses weight simply by exercising. You always have to also count calories at the table. You can, of course, maintain weigh loss with exercise – indeed it’s the most successful way to do so. But losing weight? Nutrition and exercise and anybody who tells you different isn’t up on the latest science.

  • annrein

    If you’re strolling I’ll agree with this, but power walking will burn as much as running. I walk faster than some of the trotters I see out there ‘running’. 4-5 mph walk, maintained over four miles – give it a try 🙂 Much kinder to knees and lower back.

    • Zkmc01

      I agree 100%. I racewalk 10-12 minute miles, much faster than the “average walker.” Just walked 20 miles a day for 7 days (EverWalk), and I’m in terrific shape (and 67 years old). So maybe the study should compare runners with power-walkers, not slower walkers.

  • Alex Laycock

    and if you have to stop running due to injury and then find out it was an addiction there is all that head nonsense to wade through…i switched to walking after being an exercise addict which was destroying me and giving up things like running and cycling was the hardest thing ive ever done but it was ironically necessary for my physical and mental health it was slowly killing me .