Walking vs. Running: Which Exercise is better?

Many people ask me what is better—running or walking. The simple answer is–running. Running is a more intense version of walking. But that doesn’t mean running is best for you. Since running is a  more intense form of exercise than walking, the body needs to be in better physical condition than what is required for walking. So the question really is: what is the better exercise for you, running or walking?

The impact of running places a lot more stress on muscles and bones—up to three times body weight. Walking is one times body weight. Running also produces much higher explosive forces—muscles have to contract faster and stronger to propel the body forward at a faster speed (than walking). And because the limbs are moving faster, they also have less recovery time between contractions. Structurally, the tissues involved with running have to be stronger to tolerate the increased forces (load).

In addition running requires a higher level of balance skills than walking. Each time the foot lands it has about 1/3 of the time to react to the ground compared to walking. And because running is more physically demanding than walking, the heart, lung and other organs have to work much harder to supply the blood, oxygen and energy that the muscles (and other tissues) need.

So how do you know if your body is in good enough physical condition to run? In general, if walking is highest level of impact/stress you regularly subject your body to, then you probably are not ready to run…much. If running ( even for short distances) is part of your normal day (work, sport or play), then you are probably ready to start a running program. In a future blog, I will discuss how to safely progress from walking to running.

Gerry Van Dyke

Owner/Director, COAST Rehab PT, SCS, ATC

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