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By Katie-Koerner

There are many reasons why people start running: to stay slim, boost energy or snag that treadmill next to our longtime gym crush. Running can help keep the heart healthy, improve mood and stave off sickness, plus recent studies have found running is a great way to lose and maintain weight. But research suggests going full speed isn't the only route to good health.

Now Walk (Or Run?) It Out –- The Need-To-Know
While walking can provide many of the same health benefits associated with running, recent research suggests running may be the better bet for those looking to shed some pounds. Unsurprisingly, people expend two-and-a-half times more energy running than walking, whether that's on the track or on the treadmill. So for a 160-lb person, running burns about 800 calories an hour compared to about 300 calories walking. And that equates to a pretty sizeable slice of pizza (who doesn’t love cheat day rewards?).

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More interesting, a recent study found that even when runners and walkers expended equal amounts of energy (meaning walkers spent more time exercising and covered greater distances), runners still lost more weight. Not only did the runners begin the study slimmer than the walkers; they also had a better chance of maintaining their BMI and waist circumference.

That difference could possibly be explained by another recent study, which suggests that running regulates our appetite hormones better than walking. After running or walking, participants were invited to a buffet, where walkers consumed about 50 calories more than they had burned and runners ate almost 200 calories fewer than they’d burned. Runners also had higher levels of the hormone peptide YY, which may suppress appetite.

Beyond losing weight, walking may still be super beneficial to our health. Researchers looked at data from the National Runners’ Health Study and the National Walkers’ Health Study and found that people who expended the same amount of calories -- regardless of whether they were walking or running -- saw pretty much the same health benefits. We're talking a reduced risk of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes, and better cardiovascular health.

But even the most time-efficient athletes might want to think twice before sprinting away all the time. Running puts more stress on the body and increases the risk for injuries like runner’s knee, hamstring strains, and the dreaded shin splits (which plague even the most consistent runners).

Walk This Way -- Your Action Plan
When running isn't in the cards, walking with weights might be the next best solution to getting in an energized workout. One study showed walking at a 4 mph on the treadmill with hand and ankle weights was comparable to jogging at 5 mph without the extra poundage. (And if anyone looks twice, hand weights are totally in right now, don’t they know?)

No matter which pace feels right, always make sure the body is ready for action. Sixty percent of runners experience an injury serious enough to keep them from being active. So remember that a sweat session may be too strenuous if talking to that workout buddy leaves us gasping for air (a.k.a. the talk test FAIL).

Listening to the body and completing a proper warm–up and cool down are all ways to prevent injuries, so stay informed and spend more time running on the treadmill (and less time running to the doctor).

Bored with both walking and running? There are about, oh, a bazillion other ways to keep active, from yoga and pilates to weight lifting and mountain biking, and pretty much everything in between. Don’t be afraid to try new activities to stay happy and healthy!

The Takeaway
Regular cardio (at any speed) can help keep the body healthy, not to mention improve mood and energy levels. But, lap for lap, running burns about 2.5 times more calories than walking. Running may also help control appetite, so runners may lose more weight than walkers no matter how far the walkers go. Still, running isn't for everyone; going full-speed might increase injury risk. Adding hand and ankle weights can help pick up the intensity while maintaining a slower pace.

Everyone's got their favorite go-to cardio workout. What's yours? Tell us in the comments below!

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that runners ate more calories than they burned when invited to a buffet.

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  • It May Help Prevent Obesity

    If you're prone to being obese, spending just one hour going for a brisk walk may reduce your genetic influence by half. That's the finding from a Harvard School of Public Health Study <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/walking-obesity-genetic_n_1345224.html" target="_hplink">that was recently presented</a> at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions. "In our study, a brisk one-hour daily walk reduced the genetic influence towards obesity, measured by differences in BMI by half," study researcher Qibin Qi, Ph.D. <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/emb_releases/2012-03/aha-wml030912.php" target="_hplink">said in a statement</a>. "On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle marked by watching television four hours a day increased the genetic influence by 50 percent." Not only is it helpful to get moving from behind your desk -- it might be <em>harmful</em> to stay slumped over your computer instead.

  • It Reduces 'Bad' Cholesterol And Increases 'Good' Cholesterol

    Research consistently shows that a simple walking plan can help reduce LDL cholesterol -- the damaging kind, associated with heart disease -- and increase HDL cholesterol, which is associated with heart health. <a href="http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/HealthResearchJournals.aspx?ChunkID=414029" target="_hplink">One study</a> in middle aged men found that walking enough to burn 300 calories per day was associated with a significant reduction in the total cholesterol/HDL ratio, which is an indication of better cardiovascular function. The walking plan was also effective in lowering damaging triglycerides.

  • It Lowers Body Fat

    Even if you aren't genetically predisposed to obesity, you can still benefit from the weight regulating properties of walking. Walking at least 10,000 steps a day was associated with lower body fat percentage and lower overall weight, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/extra-walking-muscle-strength_n_1154874.html" target="_hplink">according to a recent Canadian study</a> of women, ages 50 to 70 years. In the study of 57 women, those who walked more than 10,000 steps were the only group to have a normal BMI of an average 25. Those who walked fewer than 7,500 steps and those who walked between 7,500 and 10,000 steps were, on average, overweight. But while walking may have an effect on overall body mas, if it's muscle tone, balance or agility you're after, the study found that even 10,000 steps wasn't sufficient.

  • It Reduces Fatigue

    People with fatigue who also lead sedentary lifestyles reported getting a 20 percent energy boost and a 65 percent reduction in fatigue after following a low-intensity exercise program that involved walking, according to a 2008 University of Georgia study. And more, recently, walking was shown to help mitigate the profound fatigue felt by those who were recovering from serious illness, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/walking-fatigue-cancer_n_1403757.html" target="_hplink">reported </a>HuffPost's Amanda L. Chan: <blockquote>The new research shows that an activity as simple as walking could help to lessen this fatigue. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons included 102 people who had just had surgery done for their pancreatic or periampullary cancers. Eighty-five percent of them reported having fatigue at a moderate to severe level. </blockquote>

  • It Improves Mood

    The benefits of walking extend beyond the physical. Just 30 minutes of strolling a day has been associated with mood improvement among depressed patients. In fact, thanks to the endorphins released during exercise, <a href="http://www.arthritistoday.org/fitness/walking/tips-and-strategies/mental-benefits-of-walking.php" target="_hplink">the study</a> -- published in the <em>British Journal of Sports Medicine</em> -- revealed that walking worked faster than antidepressants.