Is a brisk walk as good as a run?

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on May 3, 2013

Is a brisk walk as good as a run?

This one’s for the walkers: If you’ve ever felt bad because you can’t jog or just don’t feel like it, I have good news.

True, you can’t burn as many calories per minute walking as you can running—but you can get the same health benefits, according to some new research. It’ll just take a little bigger chunk out of your day.

Previous studies that looked at the benefits of walking and running used time, not distance, in their comparisons. That’s a bit stupid, as the average person can cover about three miles during an hour-long brisk walk but five or six miles (or more) in the same period of running.

It’s no wonder walking came out as less effective in the old studies, given that joggers ended up doing twice as much work.

All the same health advantages

In this new study, involving more than 33,000 runners and 15,000 walkers, scientists correlated energy expenditures (calorie cost) from walking and running with risk reductions for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and coronary heart disease.

And although the intensity levels of those activities are very different, the upshot is that walking ultimately provides all the same health advantages.

Here’s how lead scientist Dr. Paul T. Williams put it:

“The more the runners ran and the walkers walked, the better off they were in health benefits. If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable.”

Quick translation: if you burn, for example, 250 calories several times a week doing either of these forms of exercise (and let’s assume this holds for any form of aerobic exercise), you get equal reward.

If you weigh 150 pounds and you’re walking at a 3 mile-per-hour pace, it’ll take you about 50 minutes to burn those calories. If your running pace is 10 minutes per mile (6 miles per hour), you’ll need only 22 minutes to get the job done.

(Note that I’m using the calorie estimates provided by the calorie-burn calculator on the HealthStatus website.)

Either way, the payoff is significant

Both runners and walkers reduced their risk of first-time diagnoses of hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. They also reduced their incidence of coronary heart disease.

As Dr. Williams points out, a walking habit may be more sustainable for lots of people. I’m thinking of the women I speak to who can no longer run because of arthritis in a knee or hip.

So if you’ve been thinking, “all I can do is walk,” there’s no reason to feel inadequate. You put in the time, and it’ll get the job done.

What’s your preference? Let me know in the comment box below!

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