Engaging in aerobic exercise is crucial for maintaining overall health and energy. If you’re new to working out or dealing with an injury or health issue that prompts a change in your exercise routine, you might be unsure about the best type of aerobic activity for you.

Cycling and walking stand out as two popular aerobic exercises, suitable for both beginners and individuals with injuries or health conditions. Both activities offer a gentler impact on the body compared to activities like running or jumping rope. The versatility of cycling and walking is notable — you can do them indoors or outdoors, adapting to any weather conditions.

Despite their similarities, there’s a difference in cost. Cycling requires a bike, whereas walking can start with just a pair of shoes (or even without). This distinction may lead you to question which provides a better workout and which is more beneficial for your overall health.

Walking vs. cycling: Which burns more calories?

When it comes to staying active and healthy, many people wonder whether walking or cycling is more effective for burning calories. Both activities offer numerous benefits, but understanding their differences can help you choose the one that suits your preferences and fitness goals.

Let’s start with walking. Walking is a simple and accessible exercise that almost anyone can do. Whether you stroll through the park or walk briskly to work, it’s an excellent way to get moving. The number of calories burned during a walk depends on various factors, including your speed, distance, and body weight.

Walking at a moderate pace typically burns around 100 calories per mile. So, if you take a 30-minute walk covering two miles, you can burn approximately 200 calories. Walking is a low-impact exercise, meaning it’s gentle on your joints, making it suitable for people of all fitness levels and ages.

Young woman trainer showing elder woman how to walk with hiking sticks in the park

On the other hand, cycling is a more dynamic activity that involves the use of a bicycle. Biking can be a great option for those who enjoy a faster-paced workout. The number of calories burned while cycling also depends on factors like speed, distance, and terrain. On average, cycling at a moderate pace can burn around 300-500 calories per hour.

One significant advantage of cycling is that it engages various muscle groups, including your legs, core, and even your arms if you’re riding a bike with handlebars that require steering effort. This comprehensive muscle involvement can contribute to overall strength and toning.

Now, let’s compare the two. While walking may burn fewer calories than cycling, it offers a more straightforward and convenient way to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. You can easily walk to nearby places, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or enjoy a leisurely stroll after dinner. It’s a sustainable and enjoyable way to maintain an active lifestyle.

Cycling, on the other hand, provides a more intense cardiovascular workout and can be an excellent option for those looking to challenge themselves. If you’re short on time, cycling allows you to cover more distance in less time compared to walking. Additionally, biking can be a fun social activity if you join group rides or cycling clubs.

Ultimately, the choice between walking and cycling depends on your personal preferences, fitness level, and lifestyle. If you prefer a low-impact, accessible exercise that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine, walking is an excellent choice. On the other hand, if you enjoy a more intense workout with the added benefits of muscle engagement, cycling might be the right fit for you.

Which is better for those with injuries?

Now, let’s explore which is better for individuals with injuries: walking or cycling. If you’re dealing with an injury, choosing the right form of exercise is crucial for maintaining physical activity without exacerbating or causing further harm. Both walking and cycling have their advantages and considerations for those with injuries.

Starting with walking, it is generally considered a low-impact exercise, making it a more gentle option for individuals with certain injuries. If you have joint issues or lower-body injuries, walking can be a suitable choice as it puts minimal stress on your joints. It allows for a natural range of motion and is often recommended as part of rehabilitation programs.

However, the impact on the joints during walking may vary depending on factors such as walking speed and surface. For individuals with knee or ankle injuries, choosing softer surfaces like grass or a treadmill with shock absorption may help reduce impact. It’s essential to listen to your body and choose a pace and surface that feels comfortable for your specific condition.

Portrait of handsome young man cycling on the road.

On the other hand, cycling can also be a viable option for those with injuries, especially if the injury involves the lower body. Cycling is a low-impact exercise that puts less stress on the joints compared to high-impact activities like running. The smooth, circular motion of pedalling is generally well-tolerated by individuals with knee or hip issues.

Using a stationary bike or a recumbent bike can provide additional support and comfort for individuals with back problems. These options offer a more relaxed cycling position, reducing strain on the back and neck. It’s essential to adjust the bike to your specific needs, ensuring proper alignment and minimizing any discomfort.

Ultimately, the choice between walking and cycling for individuals with injuries depends on the nature and severity of the injury. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a physical therapist is crucial to receiving personalized advice tailored to your condition. They can help you determine which activities are safe and beneficial for your rehabilitation or overall well-being.

In some cases, a combination of both walking and cycling may be recommended as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. Incorporating strengthening and flexibility exercises alongside these activities can further support the recovery process.

Who benefits from each? Who should avoid each?

Let’s break down who benefits from walking and cycling, as well as who should approach each activity with caution or avoid them altogether.

Who Benefits from Walking:

1. Almost Everyone:

  • Walking is suitable for people of various fitness levels and ages.
  • It’s an excellent option for beginners or those starting a fitness journey.

2. Those with Joint Issues:

  • Low-impact nature makes walking gentler on joints.
  • Suitable for individuals with arthritis or joint pain.

3. People Seeking Accessibility:

  • Walking is easy to incorporate into daily life, promoting a more active lifestyle.
  • Requires minimal equipment and can be done virtually anywhere.

4. Rehabilitation:

  • Often recommended for rehabilitation after injuries or surgeries.
  • Helps improve mobility and build strength gradually.

Who Should Approach Walking with Caution:

1. High-Impact Conditions:

  • Individuals with severe back problems or certain foot conditions should consult a healthcare professional before starting a walking routine.
  • People with acute injuries may need to adjust the intensity and duration based on their recovery progress.

Woman riding bike at city on sunny day

Who Should Avoid Walking:

1. Severe Mobility Issues:

  • Individuals with severe mobility issues may find walking challenging; alternative exercises or therapies may be more suitable.

Who Benefits from Cycling:

1. Cardiovascular Health Enthusiasts:

  • Cycling provides an excellent cardiovascular workout, benefiting heart health.
  • Can help improve endurance and stamina.

2. Leg and Core Strength Seekers:

  • Engages various muscle groups, particularly in the legs and core.
  • Supports muscle development and toning.

3. Those Seeking Efficiency:

  • Cycling allows covering more distance in less time compared to walking.
  • Suitable for individuals with a busy schedule.

Who Should Approach Cycling with Caution:

1. Back Problems:

  • Individuals with existing back issues may need to choose a bike that provides proper support and posture.
  • Gradual progression and proper bike adjustment are essential.

2. Balance Concerns:

  • Individuals with balance issues or a history of falls should take precautions, possibly starting with stationary bikes before venturing outdoors.

Who Should Avoid Cycling:

1. Severe Joint Issues:

  • Individuals with severe joint problems, especially in the knees, may find cycling uncomfortable.
  • Again, proper bike adjustment is crucial, and consultation with a healthcare professional is recommended.

2. Safety Concerns:

  • Those with safety concerns, such as poor vision or impaired coordination, may need to consider alternative activities to avoid potential accidents.

In summary, both walking and cycling offer numerous health benefits, but their suitability depends on individual circumstances. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regimen, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions or concerns. Listen to your body, start gradually, and choose the activity that aligns with your fitness goals and overall well-being.

Final thought

Biking and walking are fantastic ways to stay active, suitable for people at any fitness level, whether you’re just starting or consider yourself an expert.

Both activities help burn calories, making them excellent alternatives if you have a medical condition or are recovering from an injury caused by another form of exercise or sport.

If you’re pressed for time and aiming to maximize calorie burn or build strength, cycling might be the right fit for you.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a weight-bearing exercise that won’t cost you much, walking could be more beneficial.

The exciting part is, that no matter which exercise you choose, your health stands to benefit — it’s a win-win situation either way.