Is walking actually as good for you as running?

Not everyone is a fan of running, and it’s hard to blame them.

While there are plenty of people out there who love that runner’s high, others very understandably are not impressed with the high-impact cardio which is, even some of the most avid runners will agree, not hugely comfortable.

So if you’re looking for an alternative, what is walking going to do for you?

Ian Scarrott, a running expert and personal trainer at PureGym Loughborough, explains: ‘Walking has been linked to improved heart health, physical health, and mental health, and it should be considered as part of the wider picture for your overall health: prioritising sleep, good food, hydration levels, and mental health management, all contribute to health and wellbeing.’

But when it comes to running versus walking, is walking just as good for you?

Anthony Mayatt, owner of Breathe Fitness, tells ‘The simple answer is yes, 100%.

‘There has been a myth over the years that you need to run to get fit and lose weight etc, but this isn’t the case.

‘Walking has huge benefits and should be included in everyone’s daily routine.’

He goes on to explain that walking lets your heart rate rise more slowly than with running and, while it doesn’t exert you as much as running does, as long as your heart rate rises then it has an aerobic benefit to the body.

However, Ian says that ‘walking alone will only get you so far’ if you want to boost your muscle tone and cardio fitness.

He adds: ‘It’s difficult to compare walking with running as they both offer different benefits.

‘For example, running is better for improving your cardiovascular fitness, while walking is low impact.

‘Rather than comparing the two, focus on your health and how you can use walking to improve it. A good way to start is by taking up “intentional walking”, i.e. purposefully going out for a walk with fitness in mind in a way that you wouldn’t in your normal routine.

‘If you do this one or two times a week, you’ll soon find that your speed and distance before you feel tired will improve.’

To determine how much walking you need to do for it to have a significant impact on your health, Anthony says we first need to establish the different types of walking you can do.

‘There’s the everyday walking doing your chores,’ he explains, ‘clothes shopping, etc, to increase your step count, and there is a planned walk similar to a run.

‘A brisk walk means you are walking at a faster pace with your heart rate higher than your resting over a lengthened period of time.

‘It doesn’t matter if you are running or walking 2km, they each have their advantages and one isn’t better than the other. A brisk walk is easier on the joints as there is less impact on the ground with your stride.’

With that being said, if you want to go for a walk specifically to benefit your health, Anthony recommends a good average of going for a brisk 30-minute walk on a daily basis.

‘You should notice your breathing rate increase a lot but should still be able to talk if walking with someone,’ he says. ‘So your pace should be faster than your normal casual walking speed.’

Ian goes even further and says 10,000 steps is a good goal to aim for if you want to try and get fitter through walking.

‘Walking to the shops instead of driving,’ he says, ‘getting off the bus a few stops early, and even doing a mini walking workout at home up and down the stairs to break up long periods of sitting down can all help achieve more steps.

‘If you already walk a fair bit, you’ll need to step it up a gear to improve your fitness.

‘Try exploring walking routes in your local area, making sure to include hilly terrain to get your heart rate up. Walking in nature can really help your mood, so opt for green walks where you can.’

If you’re new to walking with fitness intent, Anthony recommends wearing comfortable shoes, just like you would if you were running, and trying not to wear lots of layers as your body heat should build as your heart rate rises.

He adds: ‘Carry a bottle of water and try to choose a route that will limit how much you need to stop i.e. crossing at traffic lights. It’s good to head to a park and choose a walking route and find a podcast you can listen to for the entirety of the walk.

‘Perform some mobility stretches beforehand to loosen the joints and start the walk slower and build up into it. At the end of the walk stretch out for 10 minutes to prevent injuries and tight muscles.

Ian says that stretching might not always be necessary since walking has a low risk of injury.

‘That said,’ he adds, ‘everyone can benefit from improving their flexibility. Before exercise, do dynamic stretches, and after exercising try static stretches, focusing on these major muscle groups –

  • Calves
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip flexors
  • Adductors
  • Glutes
  • Lower and upper back

‘I find starting at the bottom and working your way up to the top of your body is a good way to ensure nothing gets missed.

‘Hip flexors and adductors are not major muscle groups, but can help to combat a sedentary lifestyle and prevent knee and lower back pain.’

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