It's a fact: both walking and running can help you burn fat, but, as with so many things related to health and fitness, these two cardio workouts aren't quite created equal. And as much as we talk separately about walking to burn belly fat and running for fat loss, if you've been wondering which is better once and for all, you're not alone. That's why we connected with two experts to explain which one is the ultimate choice for burning fat.
Running Is Better For Fat Loss
At the end of the day, the activity that burns the most calories is going to be the one that helps you lose the most fat. In this case, that's running. "Running is better, just because you can do more high-intensity training with it," said Michael Fredericson, MD, professor and director of physical medicine and sports medicine at Stanford. "That really gets your metabolic system activated, and will help the burning of calories and fat."
Tom Holland, MS, NSCA-CSCS, an exercise physiologist and author of The Marathon Method, was in agreement. When you work out at a lower intensity like walking, he explained, your body will burn more fat as a percentage of total calories. However, he told POPSUGAR, "You burn more total calories, as well as more calories from fat, at higher intensities. The higher your heart rate, the greater the metabolic demand and the more energy you will expend."
Running is also more efficient, Fredericson said. If walking is your primary fat-burning workout, he recommended doing it for about an hour every day. You could achieve similar results, he said, by running for just 20-30 minutes.
Walking, though, is perfect for people who are just starting to lose weight and aren't used to harder aerobic workouts. "I'd start with walking and gradually build in the running," Fredericson said, noting that jumping straight into running multiple times a week can result in injury. "In that sense, walking might be better for some people, because you can go longer and it's going to be easier on your body." If you're ready to add running into your walks, here's an eight-week plan to follow.
Burn More Fat With Intervals
Whether you're walking or running, you can optimize your fat burn by working in interval training; that is, going hard for a few minutes, backing off for a rest period, and repeating. You can do that either by adding in hills or simply upping your pace. "Both will elevate your heart rate for short yet manageable durations," Holland explained, which increases your calories burned from fat. If you're on a treadmill, try this walking workout that combines hills and speed, a 45-minute belly-fat blasting running workout, or this circuit that combines both walking and running.
If you're hitting the sidewalks or trails, Holland recommended power-walking or running hard for one minute, then walking or jogging for one minute to recover, and repeating for five intervals. Don't forget to warm up beforehand and cool down afterwards, for 10 minutes each — use our dynamic running warmup and cooldown as guides.
How Often Should I Run or Walk to Burn Fat?
Holland said that running three days a week (not consecutively!) "is a great way to burn fat without risking common-running-related injuries." On your non-running days, he recommended cross-training with activities like walking, biking, or swimming. If you want to build muscle while burning fat, add in weightlifting days as well; follow this four-week workout plan that will help you lose weight while gaining muscle.
Walking is lower-impact, so you can do it more frequently if that's your cardio of choice. "Walking four to six times per week and adding in hills and intervals will give you the best results," Holland told POPSUGAR.
If your goal is to lose weight, Fredericson added, "you should do something every day" — whether that's walking, jogging, swimming, resistance training, or even yoga on a rest day. And although running is ultimately the better fat-burning exercise, he said, "Walking is perfectly fine too. It's actually a great way to lose weight, combined with diet changes; you just need to do it consistently and do it for a longer period."
Overall, the news is positive: you'll burn fat through walking and running. "The key is to do what you can do relative to your fitness level, be consistent, and mix up your intensities," Holland said. "Give yourself time, stick to a plan, and the results will come."