Burning Belly Fat: Run or Walk?

No matter which you chose, running or walking for fat loss is a solid start. Either can serve as a key component in a well-rounded regimen targeting stubborn belly fat.

Running is a great way to burn calories. (Image: lzf/iStock/GettyImages)

As that midsection grows, so do your health risks, says Harvard Health Publishing — too much abdominal fat can increase your chances of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. And, of course, it exponentially decreases your chance of a six pack. Whether you walk or run on your journey to ab town, you'll find a few key differences in each experience.

Tip

Running and walking will both help you burn calories, but you'll get the maximum tummy-slimming effect with a well-rounded exercise and diet regimen.

About That Belly Fat

Those little love handles that you can grab with your hands are made of subcutaneous fat, the fat layers just under the skin. This is the kind of stomach fat that leads to a pear-shaped figure.

Visceral fat (also known as abdominal fat), on the other hand, forms around the organs in the abdominal area. This deep-seated fat is the type correlated with numerous health risks, especially as you age. According to Harvard Health Publishing, current research suggests that abdominal fat cells in particular are biologically active. That means that, like an organ or a gland, they produce hormones and other body chemicals that can exert a significant influence on our overall health.

For instance, visceral fat produces cytokines, an immune system-related chemical that can lead to increased instances of cardiovascular disease. Other chemicals produced by this deep-seated fat can influence your blood pressure, your cells' sensitivity to insulin and your susceptibility to blood clotting.

Abs aside, that should be plenty enough reason to put one foot in front of the other, at whichever speed you're most comfy with.

Is Walking Enough?

Much of your belly fat burning results boil down to the amount of calories you burn compared to the amount of calories you take in. A brisk daily walk of 30 minutes can shave about 150 calories off each day, per Mayo Clinic. But is that enough exercise to reduce belly fat?

Cleveland Clinic says shedding 1 pound requires burning roughly 3,500 calories. That means if you're shooting for a pound's worth of weight loss per week, your overall calorie deficit needs to be closer to the 500-calorie mark. So while walking is a net positive for weight loss (not to mention its low-impact accessibility and myriad positive effects on heart and lung fitness, bones, balance, muscle strength and endurance), you'll need a few more arrows in your quiver in your fight against belly jelly.

Over at Mayo, registered dietician Katherine Zeratsky writes on the subject of weight loss and walking that, "You might be able to lose weight that way, depending on the duration and intensity of your walking and what your diet's like. A combination of physical activity and dietary changes that include eating fewer calories seems to promote weight loss more effectively than does exercise alone."

" A combination of physical activity and dietary changes [...] promote weight loss more effectively than does exercise alone." — Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D, Mayo Clinic

Running or Walking for Fat Loss

Running's higher impact means it may be a little less accessible, but you'll amp up essentially the same benefits you'd get from regular walking. Plus, a 2017 study exploring data from more than 55,000 people over 15 years published in _Progress in Cardiovascular Disease_s tells us that running as little as five to 10 minutes a day reduces mortality rates by 30 percent (that figure jumps to 45 percent when it comes to death via heart attack or stroke).

Clearly, you've got more than enough reason to start running, but what about the belly benefits? Before you start your official running-to-lose-belly-fat program, let's break down some calorie burning comparisons, provided by the American Council on Exercise, for a 170-pound person. Keep in mind that your weight and the intensity of the exercise will affect calorie burn in addition to the duration, but the numbers speak for themselves:

  • 30 minutes of running at 5 mph: 308 calories
  • 30 minutes of running at 6 mph: 385 calories
  • 30 minutes of running at 7 mph: 443 calories
  • 30 minutes of running at 8 mph: 520 calories
  • 30 minutes of running at 10 mph: 616 calories
  • 30 minutes of walking at 2 mph: 77 calories
  • 30 minutes of walking at 3 mph: 127 calories
  • 30 minutes of walking at 3.5 mph: 146 calories
  • 30 minutes of walking at 4 mph: 192 calories

Examining a Landmark Study

Now that you've got some basic comparisons down, leave it to the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise to take a deep dive into running versus walking for weight loss. This monumental 2013 study tests whether equivalent changes in walking or running produce equivalent weight loss under regular, nonexperimental conditions, that is, in day-to-day life.

To get their results, the Medicine and Science team studied no less than 15,237 walkers and 32,216 runners, comparing changes in body mass index with exercise energy expenditure over a period of 6.2 years.

Unsurprisingly, the study finds that walkers spend less energy walking than runners spend running (you probably didn't need 6.2 years to figure that one out). Less obvious, however, is that walkers ended up significantly heavier than runners, and "significant" is the key word here. In fact, the journal reports that, across both sexes and adjusted for a range of ages, running accounted for 90 percent greater weight loss per hour of energy expenditure when compared to walking.

While running's higher intensity in turns leads to more fat burning potential, don't let that discourage you from starting with a brisk stroll if that's more your speed. The same study goes out of its way to note that though running is ultimately more effective, BMI was significantly positively affected by both running and walking over time.

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