Walking versus running

I recently read an interesting editorial in the Journal of American College of Cardiology about the relative benefits of walking and running [1]. The editorial is partly a comment on a paper published in the same edition of the journal which found that running for 5-10 minutes a day is associated with a 45 per cent reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease over a 15-year period. Overall mortality was also reduced (by 30 per cent).

This sort of ‘epidemiological’ evidence cannot tell us for sure that running is having benefits here (just that running is associated with the benefits found). However, the article also cites research showing that in individuals who have had a heart attack, those who take up exercise have better outcomes than those who don’t.

The editorial goes on to compare the benefits associated with running with those associated with walking. Overall, it seems the benefits of a 5-minute run match those of a 15-minute walk. Also, broadly speaking, it seems the benefits associated with a 25-minute run are, overall, equivalent to walking for 1 hour 45 minutes. The authors make the point that if one is young and vibrant, running is more time-efficient.

This may be broadly so, but what I think the authors fail to factor is time spent around the time of exercise. Running will generally require individuals to get changed twice and shower once too. Plus, we may have time stretching (before and/or after exercise) and maybe even cooling down. A 5-minute run could, in reality, easily take half an hour out of one’s day (in other words, significantly more time than that devoted to say, a 15-minute walk (which, generally, will require no changing, stretching or showering).

The authors do go on, though, to point out that running can have a ‘hefty cost’ to the body in terms of injury. The authors cite the fact that even experienced runners with good preparation may be prone to injury. I know from first hand experience what they are talking about here, as I used to run a lot, and had a succession of running related injuries (shin, right ankle, left hip, sacroiliac joints in the pelvic, lower back, to name a few), which eventually led me to retire from running.

In contrast the authors make specific mention of the high ‘safety factor’ of walking, which they say ‘can be sustained for months or years.’ I have written before about how I sometimes suggest individuals adopt activities they could imagine themselves sustaining into their later years (such as their 80s). Walking usually fits the bill here, while running generally does not.

The authors also write about how running generally requires a bigger commitment than walking. Running is harder work, particularly in the initial stages, and the mental barriers to it can be greater than walking. As they point out, walking is easier to do and more conducive to ‘social networking’.

This editorial, I think, is a thoughtful and useful contribution to the conversation on activity and exercise. What the authors do, I believe, is take a balanced and pragmatic approach, highlighting the benefits of a form of activity most people can partake in with little risk of injury and may contribute to enhanced wellbeing and health for pretty much the whole of their lives.

Some people love to run, are well suited to it, and that is all good and well. However, for many (including those who are substantially overweight), running is generally not ideal exercise. Many would rather stick pins in their eyes than go running outside or on a treadmill. For a lot of us, walking offers what looks to be a viable and sustainable activity, particularly as we age. Not all of us were ‘born to run’, but almost all of us were ‘born to walk’, I think.


1. Wen CP, et al. Minimal amount of exercise to prolong life: To walk, to run, or just mix it up? JACC 2014;64(5):482-484

11 Responses to Walking versus running

  1. Catherine Graham 29 August 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    I love nordic walking and do it regularly and at pace. My hips and knees do not suffer, and I will be doing it well into old age. Also I go a lot faster than some jiggers who look like they are having an awful time , whereas I’m really enjoying myself. Always like to hear the case for walking _ after all it is what we were designed for.

    • Claire 29 August 2014 at 10:44 pm #

      Until recently I was walking into work everyday. Total time 40mins in 3mths I lost 2 stones in weight . Prior to that I had usedu the car and diet was good but hadn’t lost any weight. Once I started walking noticed feeling of well being and after a few weeks weight loss. Can’t run as have hip replacement was young for this but had been very active in the past competing in Athletics at national level. Have been hurt badly in accident resulting in compound fracture however now starting to walk again and put recovery down to 4 months of walking everywhere. Hope to get back to previous walking time and not using car.

  2. Zara Pradyer 29 August 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    What is such a comfort is that, apparently, if even walking is considered a little too ambitious, managing to stand for a while, compared with slouching on a sofa (as I am doing now – it is the weekend) holds very useful health benefits.

    Having a dog, so that on can feel worthy when taking it for a walk, also apparently helps socially, psychologically as well as physically.

    It all helps.

  3. Kirsti Bellows 29 August 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    There is walking, and then there is “walking” I do weekly. On some days my personal trainer (she’s an English Springer) and I go to a park entrance, and walk 25 minutes downhill on 15-25 percent grade. We turn around on the bottom of this hill. It takes me 35 minutes to walk back up because I have stop a few times to let my heart rate slow down a bit. Great cardio exercise, I can really feel it.
    On some other days we go to a doggy park at the ocean. It’s flat. An hour there is wonderful, but from the exercise point of view it does not match walking on hilly areas.
    Then there are “walks” when a neighbor and I take our dogs to play to a nearby nature area. As pleasant as it is, when it takes an hour to walk with a friend around a football field size area, it gives exercise only to our tongue and cheek muscles.
    My trainer, of course, runs around the whole time when I walk. She is in excellent shape.

  4. John Walters 29 August 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    Cavemen didn’t run marathons! Neither do some of the remaining ‘hunter-gatherers’, and neither do wild animals. They eat only what they are supposed to eat, and they don’t expend any energy needlessly. In my forties, would run, up to ten miles a day. I did have a very efficient cardiovascular system, but the weight I was told I would lose, just never went. I never lost an ounce. Since eating low-carb, the weight has started to go, and walking is the only exercise I take; if you discount my gardening and woodworking. I am happy at the weight loss, and most of all, it is taking the strain of my replacement knee joints, made necessary by too much running (maybe!)

  5. O 29 August 2014 at 7:52 pm #

    I cannot image anyone going for a 5-10 minute run unless it’s on a treadmill in a gym. Even then people tend to do other cardiovascular exercise including walking on the very same treadmill in the gym.

    With beginners who run outside the programs tend start with walk-run-walk for about 20 minutes.

    So I actually wonder where the researchers got their data from.

  6. Dave 29 August 2014 at 10:15 pm #

    Another advantage of walking is that it can easily be incorporated into one’s daily routine. I walk past the nearest bus stops each morning and get off the bus early each evening. This not only gets me good daily exercise at little time cost, it gives me a better choice of buses and lower fares. Win all round

  7. Brian 30 August 2014 at 9:11 am #

    No surprises here!

    For 95% of Homosapiens existence on earth we have walked every day to gather food and collect water, only running occasionally and in short high intensity spurts in order to escape being eaten or to catch something to supplement what we (mostly women) had gathered.

    Cardio/aerobic (distance) running is known to (stress) supress the immune system (how many distance runners are prone to infection illnesses aka Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe). Also distance runners “eat” their own muscles to the minimum required to run (in order to reduce body weight).

    Sprinters (aka Usain Bolt) are doing (hunter gatherer type) H.I.I.T (high intensity interval training) exercise and are muscular and less prone to illnesses.

  8. Soul 30 August 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    My main running exercise is playing tennis. Hard to believe, I’ve been doing so for around 30 years. When I began hitting in my youth I played everyday. Over time my knees really have taken a beating, becoming overly sore. The painful knees got to the point where I could hit once a week comfortably, and twice a week pushing through pain.

    When I began eating lower carb, avoiding grains in particular, I noticed my knee problems improved. Leg squat exercises provided relief also. The knees could still become sore with tennis play, causing me to hobble around for a day or two, but the soreness was tolerable.

    Then I began the crazy idea of earthing/grounding. That has made a huge difference reducing knee issues after tennis play. (It’s what made me a believer in earthing.) These days after tennis hitting I’ll earth for 30 minutes, typically placing my bare feet onto a grounded mat. When I do that every time the pain goes away and stays away.

    For awhile I thought I’d need to give up tennis some day in the future due to knee injury. I suspect now I’ll be able to continue court play as long as I wish.

  9. Chris 3 September 2014 at 10:13 am #

    Good points here John. Besides, those who do extensive research know that prolonged exercise increases ROS production in the body and it enhances oxidative metabolism. This leads to accelerated aging (very roughly speaking).

    Exercise should be a wellness tool not a weight loss tool. Just my thought.

    Cristi Vlad


  1. Cavemen Didn’t Run Marathons | Natural treatment for IBS/food sensitivities/bloating/diarrhoea/reflux/weight Your Good Health – Naturally - 29 August 2014

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