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.

GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT WORKOUT

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Exercise must be part of the equation if you’re trying to stay healthy, with many experts recommending at least 30 minutes of activity, five times a week. When dropping pounds is your goal, the recommendation jumps up to an hour per day, five times per week, and we’re talking heart-pumping exercise, not a leisurely walk around the block. Since running for a straight hour is pretty intense, especially if you’re an exercise newbie, brisk walking is a great option. But what if you’re short on time? Would a 30-minute run be as beneficial?

Losing weight is all about creating a calorie deficit. In order to lose a pound a week, you need to cut out or burn a total of 500 calories a day. If you ditch 250 calories from your diet, you’ll need to burn 250 with exercise. Here’s how many you’ll burn briskly walking compared to jogging:

Walking:
60-minute walk at 4 mph (15 minutes per mile): 243 calories burned
60-minute walk at 4.6 mph (13 minutes per mile): 270 calories burned

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Running:
30-minute run at 6 mph (10 minutes per mile): 270 calories burned
30-minute run at 6.7 mph (9 minutes per mile): 300 calories burned

Both the 60-minute walk at 4.6 mph and the 30-minute run at 6.0 mph burn the same number of calories. But if you tend to walk slower, then you definitely won’t burn as many, and if your jogging pace is closer to 7 mph, then you’ll make more use of your 30 minutes by jogging.

Whether you walk or run, instead of keeping a consistent pace, an even better option is to incorporate speed intervals. Every minute of sprinting at 8.5 mph not only burns 13 calories (as compared to 4 calories at 4 mph and 9 calories at 6 mph), but will also help diminish belly fat faster. Or, if sprinting isn’t your thing, add incline. A 60-minute walk at 4 mph with a 10 percent incline burns 567 calories! If you’d rather pick up the pace and jog at 6 mph for 30 minutes with a 5 percent incline, then you’ll burn 363 calories.

The bottom line is that the harder you work, the more calories you’ll burn, which is the key to losing weight. Jogging burns more calories per minute than walking, so you can lose weight faster by learning to love running — here’s an eight-week plan to get you up to speed. So even if you have an hour to work out, spend 30 minutes running, 20 minutes doing strength training (muscle mass increases your metabolism, which helps you burn calories faster), and 10 minutes stretching (to help prevent injury and soreness). That intense, jam-packed hour will definitely help you reach your weight-loss goals quicker than just going for a walk.

Calculations are based on a 130-pound woman.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Diggy Lloyd
Product Credit: Outdoor Voices top and pants

Walking vs. Running: What’s Best for You?

There are many reasons why people start running: to stay slim, boost energy, or snag that treadmill next to our longtime gym crush (please follow our gym etiquette tips before making any moves though).

Running can help keep the heart healthy, improve mood, and stave off sickness; plus recent studies have found running is a great way to lose and maintain weight. But research suggests going full speed isn’t the only route to good health.

More: 7 Ways to Make Any Workout Feel Easier

Now Walk (or Run?) It Out—The Need-to-Know

While walking can provide many of the same health benefits associated with running, recent research suggests running may be the better bet for those looking to shed some pounds.

Unsurprisingly, people expend two-and-a-half times more energy running than walking, whether that’s on the track or on the treadmill. So for a 160-pound person, running burns about 800 calories an hour compared to about 300 calories walking. And that equates to a pretty sizeable slice of pizza (who doesn’t love cheat day rewards?).

More interesting, a recent study found that even when runners and walkers expended equal amounts of energy (meaning walkers spent more time exercising and covered greater distances), runners still lost more weight. Not only did the runners begin the study slimmer than the walkers; they also had a better chance of maintaining their BMI and waist circumference.

More: What is BMI and How to Calculate It

How Much Energy Do We Use When we Run?

The difference between walking, jogging and running hinges on two very specific, related things: energy cost and muscle load. Basically walking, jogging and running are ways we transport our body from one place to another, under our own muscle power. While walking is fairly easy to distinguish from the other two, there is a lot of confusion on what is jogging and what is running.

The easiest way to measure the energy cost is by measuring the work we do when we breathe. We use about five Calories per liter of Oxygen we breathe in and the more our muscles work the greater is the Oxygen demand they make and the more we need to breathe deeply and rapidly. This equalizes the differences in fitness levels where an Olympic athlete will find that his jogging speed is more like everyone else’s running speed because he has better aerobic conditioning and higher levels of endurance. What will qualify as jogging for him will depend on the load on his muscles and the Oxygen demand on his lungs.

This is why the commonly used suggestion that jogging is the speed at which you can hold a conversation is actually a valid one. It means that the Oxygen load placed on the lungs is not that heavy so the activity qualifies as jogging and not running.

Walking, for example is a low energy-cost activity but as we walk faster and faster the energy expenditure keeps on increasing. We breathe heavier, until we reach the point where the energy we burn exceeds a particular threshold and the body’s optimization response kicks in and we change gears. A walker who is clocking a speed of 8km/h has higher Oxygen requirements than a runner at that speed. So, indeed, the moment that threshold is reached we change from walking to jogging. The amount of energy we require drops dramatically, once again.

This leap from walking to jogging to running is made automatically by the body in order to optimize the way it moves and the way it uses up available energy. This is important for those who use walking or jogging as a means of maintaining their bodyweight. A fast power walk (especially one where ankle or wrist weights are used) is likely to burn up more Calories than a jog. A slow run may not necessarily burn up more Calories than a jog at the top range of jogging.

One of the most common mistakes we make when calculating the number of Calories burnt during a walk, jog or run is not taking into account the number of Calories we would have burnt had we just stayed at home and watched TV. This is called the Base Calorie Burn (BCB). In order to really figure out how many Calories we burn when we exercise we should really take the Total Calories Burnt (TCB) and subtract the Base Calories Burnt (BCB) and that would give us the Net Calories Burnt (NCB) which should us if we really deserve an ice-cream afterwards or not.

Because of the body’s adaptive physiology which changes its biological make up after intense exercise there is one more benefit that running has over say jogging or walking and that is the after-burn. The after-burn is an elevated state of Calories being burnt that’s above the Base Calorie Burn we normally have at rest and which persists for some time after intense aerobic exercise.

This is one reason why High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts are so effective and also why running at a challenging pace produces better results, faster than walking. After walking the body returns to the normal Base Calorie Burn almost immediately while hard running produces a state of elevated energy consumption that can persist for up to half an hour afterwards.

As a rule-of-thumb, running will burn about double the amount of Calories walking does and that’s without taking the after-burn into consideration. Jogging is somewhere in-between and can sometimes deliver fewer Calorie burnt than a demanding walk performed with ankle and wrist weights.

If we are using walking as your primary means of cardiovascular training at the moment we will need to walk twice as much as we would have run in order to approach the energy burn. So we need to factor in two kilometers of walking for each kilometer we would have run to you get approximately the same energy cost.

Finally we must remember the body’s adaptive response to exercise. It constantly optimizes in order to reduce the energy cost. That means that if we walk the same distance every day for three months while we get better at it, it will also get easier. We will no longer burn as many Calories and we will need to increase the pace or start jogging. The same goes for jogging. At some point we need to start running. And when we run we need to find ways to challenge ourselves either by improving our speed or by increasing the distance we run or by mixing the pace or by doing the running equivalent of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) where we constantly break up the pace by going flat out and then kicking it back for a little while and then repeating.

Summary

While walking, jogging and running require energy to transport the body over a given distance, running has higher energy costs and also produces the fastest physiological changes, In direct difference to walking and jogging running also produces an after-burn which continues to consume calories for some time after the end of the run.

From a fitness and health point of view we understand that:

  • We need to walk more frequently and twice the distance in order to get near the energy burn of running.
  • Jogging is more efficient than walking so at a jog we may burn fewer Calories than our top walking speed (though it feels faster).
  • Running is a constant challenge to the body and the harder we run the more energy we need to spend in order to maintain the pace.
  • Finally, our bodies continuously change and optimize and our running regime also needs to change accordingly in order to challenge us.

If you walk briskly you can definitely catch up to someone who’s jogging slowly. It’s only natural then for us to think that the argument on slow jogging vs fast walking as irrelevant.

However, they have some not-so-obvious differences that may actually affect your workout routine.

This article is for parents who are easing their way into jogging with their little one. It’s also for those who cannot run, whether by choice or circumstances. Read on as we explore how these two routines differ and how to best use them to get the most health benefits.

Slow Jogging VS Fast Walking: Their Differences

When it’s just a few weeks after delivering your baby, you really have no choice but to do walking exercises. Even if you are really determined to start being active again, your body will need to recover first. In fact, you should only attempt on running or doing more strenuous stroller workout routine after 6 months.

Fortunately, even before you’re past that 6th month, you can either walk briskly or jog slowly. Both are very effective in helping you to shed some of those baby fats in the early stages.

As was mentioned earlier, walking fast and jogging slowly can most likely be done at the same speed. However, that is where the similarities end. Their main difference is that walking is low-impact, compared to jogging or running.

When you’re jogging, no matter how slow, there is a fraction of a second when both feet are not touching the ground. The moment the other foot lands, it immediately receives all your body weight. The impact is significant as your all your body weight is transferred to one leg with considerable force. This is the same when you’re running, only more intense.

On the other hand, one foot is always touching the ground when you’re walking. Your body weight is gentry transferred between each foot, which helps to lower the risks of injuries in the long run (no pun intended). This is because your joints do not have to continuously bear the force of your weight while slow jogging.

Which Is Better For The Heart?

Both jogging and walking can greatly help improve your overall fitness. With all the carrying that you have to do with your baby, you really need to have these cardio exercises going. That doesn’t even consider the impending toddler activities.

An average person’s heart rate can increase up to around 120 to 130 beats per minute when running. When you’re jogging slowly or brisk walking, it can only get up to 100 beats. That difference of 20 beats is not that big actually. This is especially true if you end up wearing down your body most of the time after running.

However, since you’re actually lifting your body off the ground when slow jogging, it tends to be more demanding to your cardiovascular system. Your heart rate can rise faster than with walking.

Both walking and slow jogging can yield almost the same benefits when it comes to your heart, as opposed to running or fast jogging. For one, you will not get the same muscle pains the next day. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure during your pregnancy, running can be quite risky.

Do You Lose More Weight Running or Walking?

Lifting your body off the ground with every pace while running or jogging requires more energy than walking. The means you actually get to burn more calories. This is not the only factor to consider, though.

Which do you think can you do more consistently, running, jogging, or fast walking? As with any other workout routine, consistency is the key.

An article from Runner’s World tells us that when you run slow, you actually burn more calories than walking under 5 mph. To be honest, not a lot of people can actually walk that fast. However, you can still achieve that with slow jogging.

You will also need to consider your weight when deciding which of these activities you should do. You may burn more calories when you’re running, but it will also exert a lot of pressure on your joints. If you gained a lot of weight during pregnancy, it is advisable to start with walking.

Combination of Walking And Jogging

To get the most out of these 2 routines, it is better to combine them. Doing an interval workout, wherein you alternate between slow jogging and fast walking, can help burn those calories faster.

Even slow jogging can get you really tired easily after some time. This is especially true if you’re shedding more weight than you’re used to. On the other hand, walking all the time may not be as fulfilling. Your routine might up end up very boring, discouraging you to do it every day.

Try a shorter workout routine like slow jogging for 60 seconds and then alternating it with one to two minutes of walking. If you’re planning to bring your baby with you, make sure that you’re using a jogging stroller for both you and your child’s safety and convenience.

Here’s a great workout plan from Prevention.com, to help you get started. You can change this into something that will work better for you, but at least you get a clearer picture with this.

Wrapping It Up

With the truth behind slow jogging vs fast walking unveiled, you now have a choice to do either of them or just both. Whichever you decide to choose, you will definitely need a jogging stroller instead of a regular one.

>>> Check Our List of the Best Jogging Strollers

If someone asks you which burns more calories, walking or running, the answer is pretty obvious, right? It’s running, of course. But walking provides a lot of the same benefits as running, and it can be a valuable workout in its own right. Here’s how the two stack up against each other.

Walking vs. Running: By the Numbers

Running a mile and walking a mile aren’t going to burn dramatically different calorie amounts, says Alex Harrison, Ph.D., a USA Track & Field-certified run coach and sport performance coach for Renaissance Periodization. However, it’s going to take you a lot longer to do the latter—and so the caloric difference between walking and running comes down to how many calories you burn per minute, not per mile.

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A 140-pound person burns approximately 13.2 calories per minute running, according to the American Council of Exercise. That same person would burn approximately 7.6 calories per minute walking. I’ll do the math for you: For a 30-minute run, that works out to around 396 calories burned running compared to around 228 calories burned while walking for 30 minutes.

“There’s a difference in calories per mile between walking and running of maybe 10 to 30 percent depending on the conditions, a runner’s experience, etc.,” explains Harrison. “Running burns loads more calories per minute than walking because that mile that costs 10 to 30 percent more calories is being completed in as little as half the time.”

To estimate the amount of energy—remember, energy equals calories—the body uses during physical activity (versus when you’re at rest), scientists use a unit that measures the metabolic equivalent for task (MET). One MET is what your body burns while lounging on the couch watching Netflix. Walking, a “moderate” exercise, uses 3 to 6 METs; running, which is typically classified as “vigorous,” uses 6 METs or more.

Here’s why that calorie burn is so different when you’re walking vs. running: “Muscle action that propels you from point A to B requires the utilization of a thing called ATP,” explains Janet Hamilton, an exercise physiologist and running coach with RunningStrong. “Your body stores only a limited amount of ATP (enough for only a few seconds of activity), so it needs to replenish that supply, and it does so by metabolizing your stored fuels (glycogen and fat). The process of making useable energy (ATP) from stored fuel (glycogen and fat) is dependent on how much you need and how quickly you need it.”

Translation: The more intense the activity, the greater the demand for fuel—and since walking is less intense and demanding than running, it doesn’t demand that ATP be produced at the same rate.

Running also has a slightly higher “afterburn” (or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) effect than walking—meaning, your body will continue to burn calories after you’re done exercising until your body returns to its normal resting state. Research published in the The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that the afterburn lasts five minutes longer for runners than it did for walkers.

That’s because the body requires energy to recover from exercise. “The greater the intensity and volume, the more calories will be burned after the exercise is completed,” explains Iain Hunter, a professor of exercise sciences at Brigham Young University. When exercising, you burn some of your stored fuels; replenishing those stores takes energy. Your body uses that energy to repair any microdamage from exercise as well.

Walking vs. Running: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?

From a weight loss perspective, running is the clear winner: When researchers compared 32,000 runners from the National Runners’ Health Study with 15,000 walkers from the National Walkers’ Health Study after about six years, they found that calories burned through running led to 90 percent more weight loss than calories burned through walking.

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Fitness trackers and fitness equipment can tally your calories burned while exercising, but they’re not always accurate. “Using a variety of sources and taking a ‘midpoint’ might help keep you honest,” says Hamilton. “But all of these estimates of calories burned are just that: estimates. There are a lot of variables that go into the actual number of calories burned by any given individual in any exercise beyond speed and duration.” For a starting point, calculate your numbers with our Calories Burned Running Calculator.

Can you up those numbers? The more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn, no matter the activity—that’s because it takes more energy to move more weight. If you’re specifically looking to up calorie burn, adding a 20-pound weighted vest would up your calorie burn to 8.7 and 15.1 per minute for walking and running, respectively. It’s simple physics: “The majority of calories burned in running comes from supporting body weight while moving up and down,” says Hunter. “With more weight, there will be a greater energy cost in doing this due to a greater gravitational force.”

The same goes for intensity, too: Hiking or climbing stairs can actually bring your walking METs burn up to running levels. “Greater muscle forces are required to move faster to accelerate the body up and down, move the limbs faster, and work against gravity,” says Hunter. “Running or walking uphill requires greater energy, just like lifting weights upward. It’s as if our body is the weight that we must move to greater heights, so the greater the slope, the greater the energy requirement.”

And then, of course, there’s speed: “Speed has a huge effect on caloric expenditure,” Hunter says. “The faster someone runs, the more calories they will burn per minute. However, by distance, there is a relatively steady amount of calories burned.” For example, in 30 minutes of running at 6 miles per hour (that’s a 10-minute mile pace), a 155-pound person will burn 372 calories. At 6.7 mph (or a 9-minute mile), they’ll burn 409 calories, and at 7.5 mph (an 8-minute mile pace), they’ll burn 465 calories. To double your calorie burn per mile, you’d have to literally cut more than four minutes off your pace, which is a huge amount of time.

Don’t Underestimate Low-Intensity, Steady State Cardio

Just because it isn’t as time- or energy-efficient as running doesn’t mean you should never look to walking as exercise. Whether you’re running or walking, you can reduce your risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and improve your cardiovascular health, according to data from the National Runners’ Health Study and the National Walkers’ Health Study.

“One benefit of the LISS cardio approach for fat loss for runners is that they can actually add LISS like walking into their training plan when they’re already approaching their running limits for weekly mileage, and they won’t risk injury to the same extent they would if they were to just add running mileage,” says Harrison.

In fact, fast walking can actually help you raise your calorie burn to the same amount as what you’d burn jogging. “The difference in calorie burn between briskly walking a mile and slowly running a mile is minimal,” says Hamilton. “Walking builds and maintains lower extremity and core strength, helps clear your mind, and, for runners, it’s a great way to have an active recovery day.”

To maximize calorie expenditure for the purpose of deepening a calorie deficit, you need to maximize the distance traveled or the total work done without causing hunger. For that reason, “running should not be used as a means of developing a caloric deficit,” says Harrison. “It takes too many miles, too much fatigue from those miles, and, most importantly, too much glycogen depletion, which is a surefire way to stimulate strong hunger and cravings.”

In that case, walking can be a more proactive way to weight loss than running. “Slowing the pace to a walk would be a better means of burning calories while not depleting glycogen to the same extent, which will stave off hunger while still adding to the caloric deficit necessary for weight loss,” says Harrison. “Walking 20 to 30 minutes a couple times per day is best—it’s short enough that you don’t get hypoglycemic during the walk, but much easier to do lots of times throughout the week, rather than higher-intensity work.”

The Bottom Line

In the end, vigorous running wins out for calorie burn, but remember that calories aren’t everything.

“‘Fitness’ and ‘caloric expenditure’ are two very different things,” says Harrison. “Fitness equals some level of cardiovascular exercise performance; calorie expenditure is how much mechanical and physiological work is actually done. It’s possible to do less calorie expenditure, and get a massive training stimulus for fitness improvement. Just think about a short, very intense 10 or 15 minutes of hard intervals—it’s probably not the best for weight loss, but will certainly cause a larger increase in fitness than longer bouts of walking or slower running.”

Obsessing over exactly how many calories you consume or burn is just as unhealthy as not exercising at all. So choose the activity you love most—whether it be walking or running—and focus less on the calories and more on how much better you feel after doing it.

Ashley Mateo Ashley Mateo is a writer, editor, and UESCA-certified running coach who has contributed to Runner’s World, Bicycling, Women’s Health, Health, Shape, Self, and more.

Why Walking Is Good For You (And A Great Workout)

Hate the gym? Good news: Walking is good cardio exercise — if you go at a brisk pace of at least 3 miles per hour.

Cardio or aerobic exercise works your large muscles over and over and pushes your heart and lungs to work hard. Over time, this makes your heart stronger — it’s a muscle, after all — and more efficient. This can lower your resting heart rate and blood pressure.

But wait, there’s more! Regular cardio exercise can improve your mood, lower stress, give you more energy and stamina, and sharpen mental focus and memory. It can also help you keep off extra weight, improve your cholesterol, build stronger bones and muscles, and lower your risk of diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers. All that, and it can help you sleep better too.

Here’s why walking is a great way to exercise:

  • Except for a good pair of shoes, it won’t cost you a thing.
  • You can do it anytime, anywhere. No need to pack a gym bag or worry about showering later.
  • It’s low impact and gentle on your body, so it’s even good for people with arthritis or extra weight.
  • Walking in nature is especially good for your mental health. Studies show it boosts your mood and creativity and can even be a form of meditation.

How much to walk

Walking at least 3 miles an hour counts as moderate exercise. You’ll need 2.5 hours of this level every week, so many experts recommend 30 minutes a day, five days a week. You can use our handy exercise log sheet to track your time over a week. If you don’t have a fancy gadget, you’re going at the right pace if you can still carry on a conversation while walking but can’t sing a song. For most people, this is a sign that they’re in their target heart rate zone.

If you’re going 4.5 miles per hour or up a steep hill, that’s vigorous exercise just like running or biking. Just an hour and fifteen minutes of this level of workout each week can improve your health.

Healthy adults should try to get in 10,000 steps over the course of a day. Sound like Mission Impossible? The key is to work your way up to that goal.

If you don’t move much at all, try for 2,000 steps a day at first and add 1,000 steps each week. Next, shoot for 5,000. If your goal is 3 miles a day, that’s about 6,000 steps (the actual distance will depend on your height and stride, or step length). You may be surprised at how quickly your steps add up.

Starting on a walking workout

Your shoes should be lightweight, cushioned, and flexible enough to bend in your hands. If you have flat feet, high arches, or other needs, shop at a store shop with knowledgeable staff. Don’t forget some comfy socks that fit snugly.

A wearable tracker like a Fitbit or Jawbone will log every step you take and can keep you motivated (and you can connect them to your missions on Rally). If you carry your smartphone everywhere, you can try an app like Map My Walk, Pedometer++, or any of hundreds of others. Some newer phones will track your steps even without a special app. If you don’t have a step tracker, it’s roughly 2,000 steps to one mile.

Whether you’re walking outside or on a treadmill, go slow for a few minutes, then pick up the pace. Walk tall with your head up, stomach slightly tight, and shoulders relaxed. Your steps should feel natural and smooth, with your foot rolling from heel to toe. Don’t forget to cool down slowly.

More helpful tips

  • You don’t have to do all your steps in one go. Everything counts, whether it’s walking to your mailbox or going grocery shopping.
  • Block off walking time in your daily schedule. Treat it like a meeting so you won’t let it slide.
  • If your schedule is packed, even 10-minute power walks can help.
  • Ask a friend or coworker to be your walking buddy – you’ll keep each other on track.
  • Music is motivating and keeps your pace steady, but make sure you can still hear traffic.
  • In bad weather, walk on a treadmill or in an indoor shopping mall.

Rally tools

Exercise log sheet (pdf)

Selected references

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Walking Pocket Guide. CDC website.

United States Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

The Compendium of Physical Activities. Website supported by the National Cancer Institute and Arizona State University.

How to Get a Cardio Workout by Walking

Can you really get fit by walking? Absolutely — as long as you walk long enough, hard enough, and often enough. Sure, walking burns fewer calories per minute than jogging, but most people last longer on a walk than a run, so you can make up for the deficit. Plus, compared to runners, walkers enjoy a relatively low injury rate. A recent study found that, among people who are successful in maintaining long-term weight loss, nearly 80 percent walk as their main physical activity.

Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/blyjak

Walking the right way

The biggest mistake walkers make is bending forward, a sure way to develop problems in your lower back, neck, and hips. Your posture should be naturally tall. Relax your shoulders, widen your chest, and pull your abdominals gently inward. Keep your head and chin up and focus straight ahead.

Meanwhile, keep your hands relaxed and cupped gently, and swing your arms so that they brush past your body. On the upswing, your hand should be level with your breast bone; on the downswing, your hand should brush against your hip. Keep your hips loose and relaxed. Your feet should land firmly, heel first. Roll through your heel to your arch, then to the ball of your foot, and then to your toes. Push off from your toes and the ball of your foot.

Run through a mental head-to-toe checklist every so often to see how you’re doing. To find out more about fitness walking, read Fitness Walking For Dummies (published by Wiley).

Walking tips for rookies

Although walking is the most basic of all fitness activities, novice fitness walkers can still benefit from the following pointers:

  • Increase your workout time gradually. Most people can start off with five 10- to 20-minute walking sessions a week; after about a month, they can increase each workout by 2 or 3 minutes per week until walking 30 to 45 minutes is comfortable. (Five days a week may sound like a lot, but an almost-daily walk makes it easier to get in the habit.)

  • Walk as fast as you comfortably can. If you walk very fast — at a 12-minute-mile to 15-minute-mile pace — you can burn twice as many calories as when you walk at a 20-minute-mile pace. You may not be able to move at such supersonic speeds in the beginning, but as you get fit, you can mix in some fast-paced intervals.

  • If you’re walking on the shoulder of a road, walk against traffic so you can watch cars approach. On sidewalks or trails, walk any old way you want.

  • Add some hills. Walking over hilly terrain shapes your butt and thighs and burns extra calories (about 30 percent more calories than walking on flat terrain, depending, of course, on the grade of the hills).

  • Sneak in a walk whenever you can. Leave your car at home and hoof it to the train station. Take a 15-minute walk during your lunch break. Traverse the airport on foot rather than on that automatic walking belt. It all adds up.

Is Walking Cardio?

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Walking is one of the most effective and accessible forms of cardio exercise available. It’s low-impact, easy to do, affordable (all you need is a great pair of shoes), and often enjoyable — especially when paired with a great friend or playlist.

Plus, if you struggle with sugar cravings, research shows that a brisk 15-minute walk may help curb your cravings.

Here, we offer the lowdown on the many benefits of this most basic of cardio exercises, and explain how to use it to your health and fat-loss advantage.

Is Walking Cardio?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardio exercise is any activity in which you move your bigger muscle groups rhythmically for a sustained period of time, causing you to breathe more quickly and your heart to beat more rapidly. As you continue to do cardio exercise over time, you’ll strengthen your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

Under the CDC’s definition, walking — specifically brisk walking — qualifies as cardio. As you walk, gauge your effort level on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 corresponds to sitting, while 10 corresponds to all-out physical effort. A brisk, moderate-intensity walk should feel like a 5 or 6.

Can You Lose Weight By Walking?

If you’re overweight, mostly sedentary, and/or new to exercise, walking is an easy and effective way to introduce physical activity into your daily routine. And even if you’ve been exercising for a while, adding more walks into your routine can increase your overall daily activity level, which is key for losing weight and keeping it off. Indeed, a long-term study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that walking helped people both lose and maintain weight during a 15-year period.

But exactly how many pounds you lose through walking — and how quickly you lose them — will depend on several factors, including your fitness level, eating habits, exercise intensity and frequency, body composition (ratio of lean mass to fat mass), and the intensity of your walks. Estimates from Harvard Medical School reveal that a 155-pound person can expect to burn roughly 149 calories during a 30-minute walk at a pace of 3.5 mph. But if that same person bumps up the pace to 4 mph, he/she will burn roughly 167 calories.

For best results, pair walking with healthy eating habits. Also, try to walk as much as you can during the day, as opposed to limiting physical activity to your planned workouts. A few easy ways to get more mileage out of your day: take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk during phone calls, park farther away, and take extra trips when carrying groceries into your house or apartment. See how else you might be able to squeeze more walking into your day.

After awhile, you may need to do more than simply walk to keep losing fat. If your results stall, take it as a sign it’s time to boost your exercise intensity. You can transition to running or cycling — and eventually high-intensity interval training (HIIT) once you’re fit enough — and incorporate other forms of exercise, such as strength training, in your weekly routine.

How Much Walking Should You Do Per Week?

To stay healthy, you should walk as often as possible, but at a bare minimum, follow the recommendations outlined by the CDC, which calls for at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity cardio, such as brisk walking, per week to improve overall health.

But don’t think you need to walk for hours in order to see benefits. If you can’t fit a long session into your schedule or you’re new to exercise, meet your walking quota by breaking your sessions into smaller, more manageable pieces (e.g., two or three 15-minute walks per day). Remember: Every little bit counts — especially if you keep your pace brisk.

Is Walking Better Than a Gym Workout?

Walking offers a handful of benefits you can’t get from a gym workout — it’s low-impact, free to do, and can be performed just about anywhere — but it isn’t necessarily better than going to the gym.

As mentioned previously, if you’re just beginning your fitness journey, walking is a great place to start. But even if you’ve progressed to the point where you need to move on to more vigorous forms of exercise — including those typically thought of as requiring a gym, such as strength training — you should still keep walking as much as possible. That’s especially true if your goal is weight loss, as increasing your overall daily activity (e.g., by walking more) can help keep your metabolism humming at a higher level.

In short, once you start walking more, don’t stop. It’s one of the easiest and most effective things you can do to improve your health and elevate your fitness level.

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The Key to Turning Your Daily Walk into a Legit Workout

There are lots of walks in life: the catwalk, the moonwalk, the walk of shame… But for most of us, walking is mostly just a great way to get around. It’s also one of the easiest forms of exercise, since it requires no equipment (or real skill).

That said, walking from the bedroom to the living room isn’t going to count toward your cardio goals. So when does walking really become exercise?

The actual body movement that occurs when you’re walking is like a pendulum — your body swings along, step by step, as you propel yourself over a stiff leg that acts like a pole vault. It involves putting one foot in front of the other and shifting your weight from side to side with each step to pivot over the fulcrum of your leg.

“Cardio” — short for cardiovascular exercise — refers to activity that involves or requires oxygen to meet the energy demands of your body. Any activity that increases your heart rate and respiration rate while using large muscles repetitively and rhythmically (yep, including sex) can fit the bill.

Walking definitely fits into the cardio category, but only if you walk at a pace and intensity that challenge your cardiovascular system, leading to increased demands on your muscles and heart.

No two walks (or walkers) are the same, so that tipping point might be different for each person. For starters, many variables can change the effect walking has on your body. These variables include pace, distance, and intensity. How quickly you walk, how long or how far you walk, and at what intensity will all affect your body’s response to the activity.

Before you get too caught up in the details, know that walking in all forms and at all paces is good for you. According to Dr. Robert Graham at FRESH Medicine at Physio Logic NYC, “All exercise counts. Exercise helps everything from preventing heart disease to depression.”

That’s good to know. But if you’re looking for a real workout, when does walking become cardio?

Again, that point is different for each person, based on variables such as activity level, weight, and health history. What remains consistent is that you need to be hitting a “moderate” pace to get your heart rate up and begin to see changes in your body’s cardiovascular demand.

According to Dr. Graham, a moderate level of activity noticeably increases your heart rate and breathing rate. This can be as simple as brisk walking. “Health officials recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week for a total of two hours and 30 minutes per week,” he says.

Brisk walking is actually the most recommended form of cardio exercise. Walking is an effective way to burn calories, improve your heart and lung function and get more fit. It’s not just for beginners – walking is the most popular exercise in the US, and likely worldwide as well. A fitness walking routine is easy to start, builds strength and flexibility and can help with conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

While a walking routine is not going to make you suddenly look like a bodybuilder, walking may be the best exercise for sustainable, long-term weight loss. Here’s why walking is real, effective cardio exercise that can meet most or all of your fitness requirements as well as how to make your cardio walking routine even more intense.

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Is Walking Really Cardio?

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Yes! Cardiovascular exercise is defined as an activity that raises your heart rate to the level where you’ll burn fat and calories. The great thing about cardio (and probably the best-kept secret) is there is no “best” cardio exercise. Any activity that you enjoy, you are capable of continuing and raises your heart rate can become the core of your regular cardio routine. Because people walk naturally as part of their daily life, walking is often overlooked as a great form of cardio.

There’s an assumption that you’ll need to eventually need to add running, yoga, or routine trips to the gym to really meet your intended health and fitness goals. In reality, you can get just as good of a cardio workout through walking. While running gives you a more intense cardio workout per minute, it’s also harder to sustain for longer periods of time.

When you put in the effort required to raise your heart rate, walking becomes even more effective cardio exercise. Slowly browsing the aisles of your favorite shopping center is exercise and will give you health benefits, but it doesn’t really reach the level of a great cardiovascular workout. In fact, if you’re pushing a shopping cart, you’re probably not walking fast enough to get the heart rate boost required for true cardio. (If you are, you might be scaring the other customers!)

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To raise your heart rate into the cardio zone, you’ll want to use brisk walking. If you’re walking on a level surface, you need to be moving around 3 miles per hour. At that rate, you’ll complete a mile in 20 minutes. Listen to your body to learn if you’re at the right cardio level for you. Your breathing and heart rate will increase. You will begin to sweat, and while you shouldn’t be in pain, you will likely notice a strain on your muscles. A good way to tell that you are achieving aerobic exercise is if you can talk in short sentences, but can’t sing a song.

Reaching the Recommended Activity Level for Fitness

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The Department of Health and Human Services and CDC recommend adults achieve 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. For additional benefits, double that to 300 minutes weekly. Additionally, strength training which works major muscle groups is recommended two days a week. A walking routine that includes brisk walking for 30 minutes a day can easily fulfill your cardio recommendations. If you can’t find the time to get a full 30-minute workout in at one time, breaking up your day with 10-minute walks can still meet your cardio goals and help slash your risks of heart disease and stroke.

Best of all, walking is great for people of all ages and fitness levels! Not everyone wants to or is able to lift weights, go for a long run or take a yoga class. Those are great exercises, but they’re not for everyone. Almost anyone can take a nice, long walk though!

Advantages of Walking for Cardio

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Walking has many benefits compared to other types of exercises, though it isn’t exactly glamorized in the world of cardiovascular exercise. The advantages of walking keep avid walkers coming back every day, improving their routines, and living a healthier life. Walking isn’t a fad that will be replaced by something “better” in six months. It’s a realistic way to meet your recommended fitness goals and achieve a long-term, healthier lifestyle.

These benefits make walking a favorite form of cardio for many people.

  • No supplies necessary – When you start a walking routine, all you really need is a good pair of shoes.
  • Gentle on joints and injuries – A form of exercise that doesn’t leave you in pain is a routine you can complete day after day.
  • Versatility – Walking can be done anywhere, so a change of pace, location, or intensity level can be easily accomplished to make your workout exciting again.
  • Lower risk of a plateau – It’s common for runners or those who go to the gym to repeat the exact workout every day, eventually leading to a plateau in results. The ability to change up a walking routine always leaves options for increased intensity.
  • Weather can be overcome – A walking routine can be done inside or out. If you hate the idea of a treadmill, consider a community gym with a track, or a local mall (if you can resist browsing the stores).
  • You can take your dog – Your pooch needs exercise too! If you’re a multi-tasker, this could be a great way to get two things done at once.
  • Walking improves posture – Walking the right way can improve your overall posture, improving your strength and helping to eliminate aches and pains.

It’s worth noting that because walking is so easy and “user-friendly,” there isn’t a real incentive for purveyors of “fad” exercise routines to necessarily recommend walking. If you look at the real experts, like national health organizations and government entities, you’ll find great support for walking as exercise.

Adding Intensity for Bigger Cardio Benefits

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Walking is incredibly versatile because there are many ways to increase your walking intensity that are easy to build right into your walk! If you’ve been walking for a while and are ready to take your cardio to the next level, there are many ways to get there.

Whether you’ve reached a plateau, are feeling a little bored, or just want to challenge yourself, you can add these ideas to your walking routine for a cardiovascular boost.

  • Add inclines or stairs to your walking route.
  • Try interval training, like this 15-minute walking workout.
  • Engage your core and glutes as you walk for a mini-strength workout
  • Involve your arms (power walking).
  • Track your progress.

Walking is often underrated in its ability to provide all of the fitness benefits you need. While it’s important to consider any form of exercise (especially if you enjoy it), a regular routine is only useful if you have the ability to keep it up. If an exercise routine is too strenuous, causes you significant pain, or you generally dread it; you’re much more likely to quit. Walking is a great form of cardio because so many people have the ability to keep at it and improve their routine as necessary.

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To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you can’t also add other great forms of exercise to your walking routine. You can still practice yoga, lift weights, or simply jog some of the time if you want to. Those are all great forms of exercise! Walking is real, good cardio that can form the basis of a long-lasting fitness routine that gets you results.

What About More Intense Cardio?

One of the great things about exercise is that you don’t have to stick with just one thing! Adding strength training, yoga, swimming or any other strength or cardio exercise to your walking routine will only benefit your health. If you decide to add biking, jogging, or other sports to your walking routine it’s still good for your health to get more steps on days that you’re not training. If you don’t have time to exercise, you can always take a short, intense walk.

Depending on how intense your other activities are, you might need to reduce the duration or frequency of your walks, however. If you decide to bike to work instead of taking public transportation, you’ll probably burn more calories and get a better cardio workout, possibly at the expense of getting fewer steps. That’s ok! Likewise, more intense forms of walking (like stairs or inclines) burn 50-100% more calories in the same number of steps. Remember that your step count is ultimately a marker for how active you’re getting, but the step number itself is not the goal.

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Is walking a workout?

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