Is walking or running better for your health?

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Physical inactivity increases the risk of developing a range of conditions including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. More than half of Australian adults are either not active at all or not meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity. The Australian guidelines recommend adults do at least 30 minutes of moderate to intensive physical activity on most or all days of the week.

The amount of time we’re spending sitting down at our desks or travelling to and from work is worrying. So, we know we need to be exercising more, but the question is what exercise should we be doing? In this article, we look at the benefits of walking and running.

Both walking and running are excellent forms of cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise benefits the body in many ways including:

  • helping you to lose weight
  • increasing your stamina
  • boosting your immune system
  • strengthening your heart
  • preventing or managing chronic condition

Benefits of walking

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, just 15 extra minutes of brisk walking per person, five days a week could reduce the disease burden due to physical inactivity in the population by about 13%. If that level of physical activity went up to 30 minutes, then the burden could reduce by 26%. According to the Heart Foundation, if you walk for 30 minutes a day, you’re also lowering your risk heart disease and stroke by 35% and Type 2 diabetes by 40%.

Walking is a great choice if you’re new to exercise and hoping to get active. It’s a low-impact which means it doesn’t place too much strain on your joints. Walkers also only have a one to five percent risk of injury, while runners have a 20 to 70% risk. One of the best things about walking is that you can do it at anywhere and it’s completely free. It requires no gym membership, no lycra, no yoga mat, and no personal trainer – it’s an easy and cheap way to get active.

Ways to walk more

Simple ways to incorporate walking into your everyday life include:

  • taking a walk on your lunch break
  • parking a few blocks away
  • getting off the train or bus at the stop before your destination
  • walking on escalators instead of standing
  • setting measurable and achievable walking goals

Another good tip is to get a pedometer – a wearable gadget that counts how many steps you’re taking each day. If you’re an adult, you should aim for 10,000 steps a day. You can also try a walking group if you want to be social and have fun staying active.

Benefits of running

If you’re trying to lose some weight, running is a great exercise. Running generally burns twice as many calories as walking. Just like walking, it’s also free and doesn’t require too much equipment except some good quality running shoes. Running also improves aerobic performance, heart function, balance and even metabolism.

You may have heard that running lead to osteoarthritis in the knees. However, there’s actually little evidence to support this. If you have no prior injuries, running has many health benefits. If you already have osteoarthritis in the knees, it’s a good idea to avoid high-intensity weight bearing exercises like running as it can worsen symptoms.

A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that running can significantly improve your health and reduce the risk of death at any given point in time. The study found that runners had a 27% lower risk of dying during the study period that non-runners. They also found that running was associated with a 30% lower risk of death from heart disease and 23% lower risk of death from cancer. The study found that running just once a week, or for 50 minutes each week reduces the risk of death at any given point in time.

Risks of running

Running is a high-impact exercise and each time a runner lands on the ground they put stress on their bodies that’s equal to about three times their body weight. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that runners have a 20-70% risk of exercise related injuries. If you have no prior injuries, running can you give you many health benefits. It’s a good idea to avoid running on uneven or hard surfaces and make sure you wear good running shoes.

Before you start any new exercise program, it’s best to check with your healthcare professional to assess any medical risks. 

Running tips for beginners

If you’re new to running, it’s very important to remember to start with a gentle warm up of five minutes or more. Warming up can increase the flow of blood to your muscles.  You can try walking or marching on the spot.  

You should always start slow if you’re new to running and then slowly build up your pace over time.

If you don’t like running alone, or you want extra motivation, you can try joining a group such as the Parkrun. They are organised free running groups that happen all over the country. Everyone is welcome to join.


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.

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