Which Is Better: Walking or Using an Elliptical?

Beautiful fit young woman working out on a stepper
Exercising on an elliptical typically burns more calories than walking. (Image: nd3000/iStock/Getty Images)

Both walking and working out on an elliptical machine offer cardiovascular and other health benefits, including strengthening your heart and lungs, decrease risk of heart disease and burning calories to help support a healthy body composition. The one that is considered better depends on your own personal situation and fitness goals.

For Fat Loss

If your number one goal is to lower your body fat percentage, then the elliptical machine is likely more effective than walking. To lose fat, you’ve got to significantly increase the number of calories you burn everyday and cycling on the elliptical machine has better potential for burning calories. According to Health Status, a person weighing 175 pounds will burn about 221 calories during a 60-minute walk at a speed of 2 mph. If you were to pick up the pace, you would burn about 346 calories at 3 mph and around 410 calories at 4 mph during that same one-hour duration. However, a 175-pound person can burn about 902 calories during a 60-minute elliptical workout.

Getting it In

Workout consistency is essential for reaching the full potential of health benefits that come with cardio exercise. Walking wins this battle, as it can be done nearly anywhere and with minimal equipment. Working out on the elliptical requires access to a gym or involves buying an expensive exercise machine for the home. When walking for your workout, shoes and nature will do the trick. Because you can fit in a quick walking session when you wake up or before dinner, you might be more consistent with your exercise regimen when you’re walking. In addition, walking allows you to be outdoors and enjoy the fresh air, instead of being confined to a closed space like when exercising on an elliptical.

Easy on Your Joints

Both walking and using an elliptical machine offer low impact ways to exercise. If you’re concerned about the stress that exercise can place on your ankles, knees, hips and back, both of these activities are a quality choice. However, when you’re exercising on an elliptical machine, your feet never leave the pedals and so there’s zero impact on your joints. Your feet strike the ground while walking; although impact is minimal, those who are already suffering from joint pain may prefer the smooth ride of an elliptical.

Thinking of Your Bones

While the elliptical machine provides you with a lower-impact workout, there are benefits to the additional impact stress that walking can provide. With age, bone density naturally decreases, especially for post-menopausal women. As a result, there is a greater risk of fractures. You can build bone density with exercise that places stress on your bones, such as walking. As you land from each step, your bones absorb the impact and they adapt by increasing their density and strength. Dr. Daniel W. Barry at the University of Colorado adds that brisk walking is among the best activities for building bone density.

Intensity Options

You're able to effectively adjust your exercise intensity and add variety to both walking and elliptical workouts. If you're walking on a treadmill, you can control the incline and speed of the belt to accommodate your workout goals. When walking outside, you can increase your pace and walk in areas with greater inclines. The elliptical machine allows you to adjust the resistance on the pedals and you can manually pedal faster to increase workout intensity. In addition, you can move your legs backwards to work your legs differently. Many elliptical machines also feature moving handles, which allow you to incorporate an upper body element to the exercise.

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