When your primary exercise goal is weight loss, running wins, hands down — or does it? Power walking can be an effective alternative if running is unpleasant or painful for you. Even if running is effective for weight loss, if you don't do it because you hate it, it won't do much good. Weigh the pros and cons of running for weight loss and then decide if running or power walking is best for you.
Read More: 5 Benefits of Power Walking
What Does the Research Say?
A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 2013 determined that running was more effective for weight loss than walking. That didn't mean walking was a waste of time, however.
The researchers looked at about six years of data from more than 15,000 walkers and 32,000 runners. At the beginning of the study, the runners recorded lower weights — for the most part — and, six years later, still had better weight maintenance than walkers. People older than 55 who ran versus those who walked weren't doing tons of miles, but maintained significantly lower weights than the walkers in their age group.
Earlier research published in 2005 in the Journal of Applied Physiology found similarly that running 20 miles per week, as compared to walking 11 to 12 miles per week, resulted in visceral fat loss. Visceral fat is dangerous fat that accumulates in your belly. Walking didn't cause much visceral fat loss, but did help people not gain additional fat, however.
Which Burns More Calories?
Calorie burn is at the heart of weight loss. You must have a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories to lose a pound, and running or walking is an efficient way to generate that deficit. Calories are units of energy. The larger you are, the more energy that's required to run your engine and, thus, you burn more calories.
The speed as which you walk or run also influences calorie burn. A run, which allows you to cover more distance in a lesser amount of time, is thus a bigger calorie-burner than power walking. Take a 185-pound person, for example. He'll burn 200 calories in 30 minutes going at a brisk 4 mph walking clip. But, if he runs, even at a modest 5 mph, he'll burn 355 calories in that same amount of time. Pick it up to 6 mph and the burn increases even more, to 444 calories.
Remember, what you eat also plays a role in this caloric deficit. If running makes you uncontrollably hungry, and you replace all the calories you burn at meals, it's not going to help you lose weight. Stick to a reduced-calorie, healthy eating plan for the best results.
Is It Sustainable?
For some people, running just isn't a sustainable exercise. It may be too intense, especially if you're just starting out. If all you can manage is 5 to 10 minutes of running, you're not going to burn as many calories as you would in 30 or 45 minutes of power walking.
Also, if you have orthopedic problems, such as arthritis, heart issues or breathing issues, running isn't an option, regardless of how effective it might seem to be for weight loss.
Do You Enjoy It?
Running may be better for weight loss, but if you dread and avoid it, it's not going to do you much good. Ultimately, exercise that helps you manage and lose weight must be something you can keep up for the long term. Even if you get two good weeks in, as soon as you start making excuses and avoiding your running sessions, the progress stalls.
Power walking is better if you know you'll get it done. Also, consider other exercise options that you might enjoy. Cycling, swimming and kickboxing are all effective calorie-burners. Perhaps you'd rather join a local soccer team or take up ballroom dancing — running and power walking aren't your only choices.