Oftentimes, walking is treated as a way to ease the body into running, as if walking in and of itself isn't good enough. In reality, there are quite a few benefits of walking over running that make it just as great of an activity for the mind and body. In some cases, the benefits of walking actually outweigh those of running.
The narrative that running is better than walking is far from true. Anita Mirchandani, M.S., a certified fitness professional and prenatal/postnatal exercise specialist, tells Romper that walking "hits all the same muscle movements" as running, and that in terms of general health, any movement is good. Additionally, a study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology found that when performed at equivalent energy expenditures, walking and running equally reduce the risks of "hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and possibly CHD."
There are also some well-known reasons why a person may opt to walk rather than run. For instance, Miguel Cunha, DPM and Founder of Gotham Footcare, tells Romper that walking puts less pressure on the joints than running does because it's a lower impact sport.
"The impact that occurs with every step when running increases the force placed on your feet up to 2.5 times your body weight, which can place tremendous stress on the muscles, bones, ligaments and joints of your feet," he explains.
If you're lucky enough to not have to worry about your joints, impact isn't the only thing that walking has over running. Here are four other surprising benefits of walking that aren't true for running.
1. Walking Has A Lower Osteoarthritis Risk
Dr. Cunha tells Romper that while running is a great form of exercise it does come with an increased risk of injuries like "ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and stress fractures." Walking still has these risks, but at a much lower rate. Additionally, Dr. Cunha says that a person who walks has a lower risk of developing osteoarthritis, the breakdown of cartilage between the bones of a joint, than someone who runs on a regular basis. Osteoarthritis is irreversible and can cause tremendous pain as the condition worsens over time.
2. Walking Shoes Are Easier To Find
It's important to wear the right clothes and shoes for any sport, including walking. Dr. Cunha says, "Since running is a more intense activity [running shoes are] generally made with lighter materials like mesh that also promote breathability and have heavier cushioning" where as walking shoes don't need these features. However, he mentions that walkers do need to ensure they find a pair of shoes that "provide adequate arch support and stability." Thankfully, Dr. Cunha says walking shoes are typically easier to find and (bonus) tend to be more fashionable.
3. Walkers Can Train Where Runners Can't
Don't scoff at the power of taking the stairs. As explained on Harvard University Medical School's Health Blog, Canadian researchers evaluated a group of volunteers as they participated in various workouts. In the end, "the most demanding" workout was climbing stairs. Climbing stairs is one of the most taxing, and beneficial workouts around, and has been shown to lower mortality rates for people who do it regularly. Even better, almost anyone can walk up and down stairs but only the very fit can safely run up and down flights of stairs without risking injury. This means that for the majority of people (aside from professional athletes), walking up the stairs is more beneficial and sustainable than attempting to run up them.
4. There's More Potential For A Better Workout
Mirchandani tells Romper that while "running is a more intense cardio option as opposed to walking", there is more opportunity to enhance your workout without putting more pressure on your joints when walking. You can increase your intensity by "adding swaying arms, incorporating intervals, or planning a walking/running combination". It's true that you can certainly add in intervals with running as well, but it may come at the cost of an injury or further deterioration of the joints.
No matter what, every expert agrees that some movement, whether it's walking, running, or dragging yourself up several flights of stairs, is better than none at all. Still, there are plenty of benefits that support being perfectly content as walker without any intention of ever becoming a runner.
"Walking Versus Running for Hypertension, Cholesterol, and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction," Paul T. Williams and Paul D. Thompson, April 4, 2013, The Journal of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/ATVBAHA.112.300878
Anita Mirchandani, M.S, R.D, C.D.N, Certified Fitness Professional, and Prenatal/Postnatal Exercise Specialist
Miguel Cunha, DPM and Founder of Gotham Footcare