Short run vs a long walk: Which is better for you?

Everyone knows that you have to exercise to stay healthy. But a lot of people are still unsure about how much and what kind of exercise you should do each week.

Moderate intensity exercise is low-stress exercise like walking, cycling or swimming. Vigorous intensity exercise means you should be breathing harder and sweating and includes running, fast cycling, aerobics and high-energy competitive sports.

So the obvious question then is am I better off doing a long walk or a short run?
Well, the answer depends on a number of factors including your level of fitness, exercise goals, injury risk profile and how much time you have.

A short run (10–20 minutes)
Let’s start simple: Running is better for your health than walking, but it comes with a much higher risk of injury.

Running is excellent for the cardiovascular system. It keeps the heart strong and the blood vessels supple, can reduce inflammation and stress, and is one of the best ways to burn calories.
Research even suggests that regular runners live longer than non-runners. In particular, jogging was seen to significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease for men.

But like everything in life, there is a trade-off. All those health benefits come with a heightened risk of injury. In fact, this study showed that while preparing for a running event, one in four participants reported a significant running related injury.

Common running injuries include tibial stress syndrome (or shin splints), Achilles tendon injuries and plantar fasciitis. It’s also been associated with an increased risk of arthritis and a range of foot, ankle, knee and hip problems.

This study showed that running produces ground reaction forces at approximately 2.5 times the runner’s body weight, while walking produces forces just 1.2 times body weight. That means runners are literally pounding the pavement and that pounding will take its toll.

Add to that the risk of tripping and falling and the chance of collisions if you’re running in high-traffic areas, and it’s clear that running comes with a significantly higher risk of injury than walking.

A long walk (at least 60 minutes)
Research has shown that regular walking (and the longer, the better) can also extend your life and stave off disease. And you’re at significantly lower risk of injury compared with running. While runners can overdo it, quickly moving from healthy running distances to unhealthy distances, this research suggests that you can just keep on walking and it’ll be good for you.

In terms of general long-term health, it seems that running and walking are both going to do you right.
So it comes down to what’s better for you, and that depends on a few factors.

Level of fitness and susceptibility to injury
If you’re not used to exercise or you’re out of shape, overweight or recovering from an injury, then a long walk is clearly the better option. Running requires a reasonable base level of fitness and a certain amount of strength in the joints and muscles to handle the constant impact.

On the other hand, if you are reasonably fit, you’re not going to get much cardio benefit from a long walk, so running may be the better option.

If you are susceptible to injury – especially foot, ankle, knee or hip injuries – or you have pre-existing issues in that area of the body, running probably isn’t the best option. Try lower impact forms of cardio like walking or cycling. If you’re at the gym, elliptical runners or rowing machines are also good alternatives for low stress cardio.

Exercise goals
What are you trying to achieve with your running? If you’re trying to lose weight, moderately paced running can burn calories twice as fast as walking. If you’re just trying to promote a base level of health and fitness, then walking will do the job just as well.

Spare time
Running delivers more health benefits more efficiently than walking. This study showed that five minutes of running delivers the same health benefits as 15 minutes of walking. So if finding time to exercise is an issue for you, running is obviously a much better option than walking since you can achieve the same results in one-third of the time.

Want to find out more about the different benefits of running and walking?