Both running and walking are a great form of cardio. And although they both get you moving, they aren't quite equal. There are a number of ways running affects your body differently than walking, some of which are positive and others of which pose more of a risk. If you're trying to figure out the best fitness routine for yourself, understanding the differences between each can help you decide what's best for your body, whether it's what you choose to do long-term or just what you want to do for your particular workout that day.
For most people, listening to your body is key when it comes to choosing running or walking, as both can be very beneficial. "You need to ease yourself into running, but if you do that and it still doesn't feel good (your joints ache or your knees or back hurt), then maybe running isn't for you," Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Ambyr Chatzopoulos tells Bustle. "If you continuously injure yourself while running and have to take time off, then running probably isn't for you. However, if you run with proper form and feel good after running (both mentally and physically), then you can gain a lot more from it in a smaller amount of time."
To help you better understand the differences between these two forms of activity, you'll want to be aware of these six ways running affects your body differently than walking, according to experts.
1. It Involves Mid-Sole Contact Rather Than Heel
In both running and walking, the body recruits the large muscle groups of the quadriceps, gluteals, and hamstrings. The gait, however, is different between walking and running. "When walking, the foot meets the ground in a heel strike," personal trainer Karen Shopoff Rooff tells Bustle. "When running, however, people tend to land either on the middle of the foot (when jogging) or on the ball of the foot (when sprinting). With the heel strike of walking, the hamstrings are worked more than they are in running. Conversely, the quads are used more in running than walking because of the springlike propulsion off the foot when running."
2. It Impacts Your Joints More
Because of this difference in where the foot contacts the floor, running has more impact on on the joints than walking. "The change in strike area on the foot increases the forces sent upward through the body as you land further forward on the foot," says Rooff. If your form is correct, this can be positive. But if your form is off, you may injure yourself while running. Paying attention to the way your foot hits the ground can help you run in a way that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the downsides.
3. It Can Lead To More Injuries
"Running produces a much higher ground reaction force on your body than walking does," says Chatzopoulos. "If you're running with proper form, then your muscles, joints and tendons will accept this force and actually use it to help propel your body forward." However, many people don't run with proper form, which can increase your risk of injury, especially compared to walking.
4. It Can Build Better Bone Density
As was mentioned before, the impact from running isn't totally negative. In fact, it can actually have some health benefits. "Running can lead to more injuries, but it has also been shown to lead to better bone density, better circulation, and improved muscle and tendon function," says Chatzopoulos.
5. You Expend More Energy
There's a reason walking feels less strenuous than running, and it's because people tend to expend more energy on a run than a walk. According to research published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, people expend two-and-a-half times more energy running than walking, including on a track or treadmill. If you're shorter on time and want a more intense workout, running is the preferable choice.
6. It Can Have A Greater Impact On Your Hormones
Long-distance running can have a negative hormonal impact on some people, especial those with hypothyroidism. "They may find that the training stresses of running exacerbate their thyroid imbalance," says Rooff. "Distance running creates a physiological reaction of stress in the body, as your body doesn't know the difference between running from a lion attack for two hours or running for fun. This chronic stress taxes your thyroid and can lead to fatigue ... and depression." If you get these symptoms from running, see a doctor, who can help check on your thyroid health.
Both running and walking are healthy activities, and deciding which is best for you depends on your personal health and needs.