November 22, 2013
By Harvey B. Simon M.D.
Harvard Medical School
It's not in the same league as the Coke vs. Pepsi rivalry. Or Nike vs. Reebok. But it is the topic of heated debate: walking vs. jogging. Which is better?
The answer depends on what you mean by "better." Is one better than the other for:
Walking and jogging share some of the same benefits. They also have their own pros and cons. Let's see what they are.
The Shared Benefits
Brisk walking, jogging and running are aerobic exercises. These are activities that raise the heart rate but do not use all of the body's oxygen supply the way all-out sprinting does.
Like other aerobic activities, walking and jogging will:
Improve your fitness and endurance
Reduce your body fat
Improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels
Lower your blood pressure
Strengthen your muscles and bones
These changes to your body's chemistry and metabolism add up to big gains for your health. Walking and jogging protect against heart attack and stroke. They also reduce your risk of diabetes, osteoporosis ("thin bones"), fractures and certain cancers. (Colon and possibly prostate cancers stand out for men.) And men will be particularly glad to learn that gents who exercise have a lower risk of erectile dysfunction than their sedentary peers.
If that's not enough to get you moving, remember that regular exercise will also protect against depression, reduce stress, and lower your risk of developing dementia ('losing it") as you age. These are all long-term benefits, but exercise also has short-term rewards. You'll feel better, have more energy, and look better.
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What Are the Differences?
The benefits of exercise depend on three elements: intensity, duration and frequency. These can help you decide which form of exercise is best for you.
Walking and jogging differ when it comes to impact and intensity. When you walk, one foot is on the ground at all times, but when you jog or run, you are entirely airborne for part of every stride. That means you land with much more impact when you jog. Walking is less traumatic and less likely to produce musculo-skeletal injuries.
On the other hand, the greater intensity of jogging is its major advantage. The higher intensity gives your aerobic fitness level and work capacity an extra boost. (In one study, running was linked to better weight control than a comparable amount of walking.) And because you are moving faster, your workouts will take less time to finish.
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The Advantages of Walking
Here some things that give walking an edge:
- Walking doesn't take any ability, training or practice. Unless you have a major disability, you can walk.
- You don't need special clothes or shoes. Walk in your work clothes and everyday shoes at lunch. Or change into athletic garb and walking or running shoes. Remember, you get the same benefits whether you walk for 5 to 15 minutes several times a day (during daily activities) or set aside 30 to 40 minutes for a "power" walk in athletic togs and shoes.
- Because walking is a low-impact activity, injuries are uncommon. That means you can walk as often as you like without running the risk of missing days (or weeks) due to injury.
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The Advantages of Jogging
Here are some things that give jogging an edge:
- Because jogging is more intense, you'll burn calories faster than with walking. You'll get the same health benefits with either form of exercise, but jogging will earn you those rewards in less time than walking.
- Jogging and running are more intense than walking. This makes them better for building aerobic fitness and for training for other sports.
- Both walking and jogging can be solitary or shared social activities. You can do either in the great outdoors or indoors on a treadmill. But jogging and running can also be competitive events in their own right. You can get motivation and enjoyment from jogging in a fun run or running in a road race.
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What's Best for You?
Men who are older, overweight or troubled by arthritis should choose walking. Other men who are out of shape should start with walking, then consider a gradual shift to jogging as they improve. And even joggers who are in good shape should start every run with a few minutes of warm-up walking and end each with a brief cool-down stroll. Needless to say, men with heart disease or other significant health problems must get medical clearance before starting any exercise program.
The ideal "dose" of walking, jogging or running is about 3 miles a day. A 3-mile run will take about 24 to 30 minutes. Jogging the same distance takes about 30 to 36 minutes. A brisk walk will take about 45 to 50 minutes. Each activity will burn the same number of calories per mile (100 for a 150 pound man, 118 for a 175 pounder, or 135 for a 200 pounder).
All of these are:
- Adaptable to many climates
- Suitable for solitude, companionship or even competition
And they all use simple techniques and low-cost equipment.
Common sense and safety are important priorities for both walking and jogging. That means observing the rules of the road outdoors, wearing the right clothing and shoes, and, above all, listening to your body.
Choose whichever activity suits you best. The important thing is to get your body moving; just how you move it along is a matter of personal preference.
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Harvey B. Simon, M.D. is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Health Sciences Technology Faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the founding editor of the Harvard Men's Health Watch newsletter and author of six consumer health books, including The Harvard Medical School Guide to Men's Health (Simon and Schuster, 2002) and The No Sweat Exercise Plan, Lose Weight, Get Healthy and Live Longer (McGraw-Hill, 2006). Dr. Simon practices at the Massachusetts General Hospital; he received the London Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Harvard and MIT.