Cycling vs Walking – Everything You Need to Know (and more)!

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If you read “The Guardian,” you know that this British publication never met a controversial subject editor weren’t willing to cover, so when the topic of fitness arose within the context of society’s current passion for staying fit, Nicole Mowbray took her assignment personally. 

Her article, “It’s intoxicating – I became obsessed’: has fitness gone too far?” garnered plenty of readers when it was published a few years ago, and perhaps you share her sentiment.

But if you are as serious about taking up an activity as the ones Mowbray cited—-to get fit, lose weight and extend the time you have on this earth–choosing between these two popular options sure beat running, especially if you’re nursing a long list of injuries as a result of pounding pavement or trails. 

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Cycling and walking remain two of the most popular and convenient ways to stay fit without an expensive gym membership, and by considering salient points listed below, deciding between the two should a no brainer.

Cycling vs. walking: Both have impressive histories

Walking has been around since cavemen first began roaming from cave to cave, and while history credits Leonardo DaVinci, Pierre Lallement, and Pierre Michaux with the evolution of bicycles, the question of whether biking or walking superior is still being debated.

Your choice must take into consideration your objectives, lifestyle, schedule, and demands made upon you. See which of the following scenarios best describes your goals so you can choose the option that not only delivers optimal results and makes sense but offers you the most amount of fun and enjoyment, too! 

You’re burning to burn calories

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The winner of this walking-cycling debate is usually cycling. Scientists claim that bikers have the edge because an hour of walking that burns 300 calories is likely to become a 600 calorie loss if you ride. 

Your weight, pace, and terrain all determine the rate at which you accomplish your goal, but dare we throw a monkey wrench into the equation by adding that runners can leave walkers and cyclists in their rearview mirrors? Calorie burning takes hard work. Pick up the pace walking or cycling and up the burn.

Can cycling and walking ever measure up to each other? According to a Harvard University study, the pace is the great equalizer. If you’re cycling at around ten mph, it’s possible to burn up 320 calories, but if you walk at a pace of 3.5 mph, you’ll kiss 298 calories goodbye. 

Translation: Pick up the pace doing either, and the calorie burn numbers will go up, but cycling will rarely be the loser in this competition! Further to the topic of interval training, you can do it while walking, but the impact on your joints may not make this a wise option.

You’re all about building muscle

In the cycling vs walking debate, the answer is more complicated simply because you use different muscles to engage in either activity. Jump on your bike, and you will have to rely upon your quadriceps and glutes because they’re the bad boys that assist you in pulling and pushing pedals. 

On the other hand, get off your duff and walk and you’ll feel the burn in your calves and gluteus medius. Both muscles are required to push off the ground with each footfall and keep you upright and balanced. 

If you’ve been under the illusion that walking is the secret to improved muscle tone, that’s not always the case. Losing weight means your legs are supporting fewer pounds, so muscle tone can diminish. As a non-weight-bearing activity, cycling is fantastic for toning your leg muscles, so so if that’s your goal, you know which event to choose.

More Cardio Please

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Surprisingly, walking can give your cardiovascular system a super boost because, say, experts, walking requires you to expend constant energy. As long as you don’t stop every time you see a park bench, a consistent walk can fine-tune your heart rhythm and benefit your circulation. 

That stated, biking is likely to get your heart rate higher than walking, but with either activity, say Mayo Clinic experts, adopting this exercise style consisting of short bursts of intense activity interspersed by slowing things down, could be the key to maximizing that cardio workout. 

This approach to exercise works beautifully when you’re on your feet, but how do you feel about riding fast, slowing down, and then speeding up again? If you’re easily frustrated, you may wish to take a pass on interval training by bike.

You’re hungry to get your appetite in check

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If just passing the ‘fridge is a signal to check out the contents; getting a handle on your appetite is a reasonable goal that can easily be met by either walking or cycling. While taking a brisk walk will get you physically away from temptation, it won’t do much to quell your appetite, and in fact, that walk could stimulate it so much; you could wind up eating more. 

Obviously, cycling is the better appetite suppression choice—unless you bring a biking backpack filled with unhealthy food along! If science is your thing, here’s how either cycling or walking will work to diminish or control your urge to eat: Your body survives because the hunger-control hormones ghrelin and peptide YY work in concert to stimulate hunger and notify you when you’re full. 

But if you exercise using a bicycle, says Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences professor Dr. David Stensel, you can suppress the urge to eat for two or three hours after you rev up your system by cycling at a brisk clip. Just don’t bite into that cake once the three hours are history.

Rev up your mental health

According to the Bike and Walk Alliance, athletes should avoid picking a “favorite child” because both walking and cycling, in their estimation, contribute mightily to improved mental health. 

Every pedal or footfall can provoke clarity, optimism, and a sense of well-being, and because you help the environment by walking or biking, you get an opportunity to strike a blow against fuel-powered vehicles responsible for the rising number of greenhouse gas emissions that have been building up throughout the planet. Whether you cycle or walk, you’re taking one gas-spewing vehicle off the street, so in your own way, you impact everything from rising sea levels to global warming. 

As for benefits, you may not be aware of reaping by choosing cycling over walking; this is big news. Researchers have proven that 30 minutes of steady biking can help your brain grow. Every time you ride, you increase protein production that produces new brain cells. Who doesn’t want more brain cells these days?

You were diagnosed with diabetes

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The complexity of a Type II diabetes diagnosis is more than just your body begging you to stop eating sugar. It’s also a warning that you could have lower body circulation issues, so everything about your physiology benefits from undertaking walking or bicycling. 

Circulation issues associated with diabetes may be the reason sedentary people wind up losing extremities, so either walking or biking is a winning strategy. That said, cycling has the edge over walking simply because the circulatory system gets more perks from moderate cycling. Cycling may also mediate high blood pressure issues because it lowers blood glucose levels, which causes diabetes diagnoses in the first place. 

Because Type II diabetics tend to be overweight, it’s important to remember that cycling on a recumbent bike can take the pressure off joints, so if you are 50+ pounds overweight, that walk that seems to beneficial could stress out your joints and make arthritic symptoms more painful. 

At last: a win for the walking team! Of course, you can pull a muscle if you get too aggressive or don’t pay attention to where you’re going, but a walker is rarely sidelined by injury. However, mild versions of runner’s knee, shin splints, and inflamed tendons could render a walker out of commission for short periods. 

We don’t have to remind you that cycling can put one at greater risk for injury, but here’s a bright spot to keep in mind: Running injuries can sideline athletes just as often, so throw this popular activity into the mix when you compare and contrast exercise options. 

Typical diagnoses cyclists are given when seeing doctors are neck or back pain plus tendonitis that can become chronic if not addressed quickly with proper treatment. But here are something runners needn’t worry about: Crashing into a number of obstacles. Unless, of course, they haven’t bothered to update their eyewear prescriptions!

Read more: Best Bikes for Back Pain

Show you the money

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This fact is irrefutable: Even if you buy the most expensive athletic shoes on the market and deck yourself out in designer label clothing, your gear won’t come close to the price tag associated with the purchase of your bike. Not worrying about anything but those athletic shoes and a reasonable number of clothing changes is a decided advantage for folks who have no money but want to get and stay fit. 

On the other hand, there’s a disease that comes with cycling that could max out your plastic, and you may already be suffering the side effects. It’s called, “I want it all!” New bikes, repairs, upgrades, safety gear and accessories can lead to serious addiction if your love of cycling prompts you to stay on a perpetual shopping expedition for the latest and greatest cycling goodies.

It’s all about time for you

How fast can you lace up your kicks, grab a water bottle and hit the pavement or trail? Once again, the cycling vs walking comparison confers all advantages on walking. But look beyond the surface, and you’ll realize that the time it takes for you to retrieve your bike is well worth the trade-off because you stand to burn twice as many calories on your bike as you would on the most vigorous walk. 

While we’re on the topic of time management, if your bike isn’t in the world’s best condition, factor in the time you spend keeping it on the road or trail before you vote for team walking, and here’s another point to consider on this specific topic: When a blizzard hits or the heat index moves into record numbers, you can always hit the treadmill and get your walk in without having to suffer weather-related stress. 

Should you factor in intensity?

 When trying to decide between walking and cycling, one of the best objectives you can set for either is the commitment to start slow and build up speed, taking into account the factors mentioned above that weigh in on your decision to choose one over the other. 

The faster you move at either activity, and the longer you keep up your efforts, the more physically fit you become, and the more likely you will stick with your program because you take pride in what you’re accomplishing. The bottom line is that you will always have more intensity options when riding a bike than you will if you up to your walking sessions.

But be of good cheer. There is an equalizer in this debate that will pay off no matter which choice you make: You’re always going to improve your workout if you walk or cycle in areas that present terrain challenges. Whether you walk up and down hills or bike them, you’ll burn more calories and tone your body more consistently than you would if you stuck to flat terrain for either workout. 

What about motivation?

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It can be easy to decide between cycling versus walking based on all of the factors included in this article, but if you lack the motivation to get off the couch on a consistent basis, not taking action has the potential to impact your emotional health and exacerbate existing conditions like depression and mood swings. Take up either activity, and you can’t help but feel motivated to succeed.

But self-motivation is no easy fete for some people, which is why it’s never a good idea to take up either type of exercise until you are sure to stick with it. Every time you fail to take a walk or break out your bike, your self-confidence can be diminished, and such negative feelings can exacerbate feelings of low self-worth.

For those facing this conundrum, joining a cycling or walking group so you know that others are counting on you to show up can be powerfully motivating. Plenty of neophytes have begun their fitness journeys relying upon outside factors to help them develop their walking or cycling habit. In fact, some become such zealots, they turn into cycling and walking evangelists!

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About Alek Asaduryan

Alek Asaduryan is the founder of YesCycling and has been riding bikes and in the cycling industry since 1991. Since then, his mission is to make cycling more accessible to everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people to achieve that. When he's not out riding his beloved fitness bike, Alek reports on news, gear, guides, and all things cycling related.