When most people think of cardio exercise, they might picture marathon runners pounding pavement or road cyclists zooming down steep descents. With walking seemingly being a lot “easier” and mild, many people wonder if it is considered cardio exercise at all! In this article, we’re going to explore what cardio exercise is, whether or not walking is considered cardio exercise, and the differences between running and walking in relation to reaching your exercise goals. 

What is Cardio Exercise?

Cardio exercise, aerobic exercise, and anaerobic exercise are all terms most people have heard of. But what do they really mean, and how are they different? Let’s look at each one before we look at whether walking falls under the term “cardio exercise.” 

Cardio Exercise

Cardio is a term used to describe a form of exercise that increases your heart rate. Cardio is derived from the Greek word “kardía,” which means heart. Activities like cycling, running, and swimming often come to mind because they can greatly increase your heart rate and make you breathe heavily.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic is derived from the Greek roots “aero” (air) and “bios” (life). When your aerobic energy system is being worked, it makes the body more efficient at moving oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting that oxygen to working muscles. 

Your cardiovascular and aerobic energy systems are two different systems affected by the same type of exercise, which is why people often interchange cardio exercise and aerobic exercise. When you exercise, your heart rate and oxygen consumption both increase simultaneously. Therefore, aerobic exercise and cardio exercise can be used interchangeably.

Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, is a form of exercise that uses stored energy in your body to fuel your movement. It relies on breaking down glucose in your muscles from fat, protein, and carbs. Anaerobic exercise happens during short, high-intensity workouts like HIIT, yoga, pilates, and weight lifting. 

Grandma and grandchild walking on a forest road.

Is Walking Cardio Exercise?

According to these definitions, walking is considered to be a form of cardio and aerobic exercise. In fact, walking is one of the easiest ways for adults to prevent and manage cardiovascular disease- the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Harvard School of Health, these benefits can be seen with a moderate-intensity walking pace meeting a metabolic equivalent of 3.0-6.0, or a pace of about 2.5 to 4.2 miles per hour. In one study, the greatest benefits were seen by the walkers who walked 3 miles per hour ( a “brisk” pace) or faster. 

What are the Differences Between Running and Walking for Cardio Exercise?

When thinking about exercise, it’s crucial to think of the WHY behind the types of exercise you choose and why you want to exercise in the first place. 

  • Are you exercising to lose weight? 
  • Do you want to gain muscle? 
  • Do you want to be more fluid when doing daily activities? 
  • Do you want to experience doing something hard that requires dedication and discipline- like running a marathon or summiting a peak?


Your answer might be yes to a few or all of these. But knowing your WHY will work as your guide when choosing between different types of exercise. 

To deeper understand the differences between running and walking for cardio exercise, let’s explore muscle fibers. Skeletal muscles are made up of individual fibers called fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers, with fast-twitch fibers making up the bulk of your muscles. Fast-twitch fibers provide high power, but for shorter durations as they fatigue quickly. These fibers support activities like weight lifting, sprinting, and jumping. Slow-twitch fibers can provide more limited power for longer durations as they don’t fatigue as quickly. These fibers support your body during endurance running, cycling, power walking, or swimming.

So, off the bat, you may notice that if you’re trying to use running or walking as a way to gain muscle, they are not as effective as fast-twitch muscle-building activities like sprinting or weight lifting. You’ll still gain muscle, but it will be limited to the areas in which those fibers occupy your skeletal muscle. Combining strength training with cardio exercise is an excellent and effective way to build muscle with both types of muscle fiber. 

Woman running on the road in the high desert country. Sagebrush and yellow flowers at the forefront.

Let’s consider how walking and running affect weight loss. Steady-state cardio doesn’t place high stress on your fast-twitch muscle fibers, therefore not efficiently emptying your glycogen (fat) stores. This can lead to more circulating glucose in your bloodstream, which then needs to be stored. When you don’t have the muscle mass to store this glucose, it’s stored as fat. Strength & resistance training places a high demand on the bulk of your muscle (fast twitch fibers) which, in turn, gives your body a place to store this glucose. Contrary to popular belief, this means that running and walking are not the most effective ways to lose weight in comparison to strength training.

If you want to run or walk for weight loss or muscle gain, we’d recommend that you do more research on the constrained energy model (which challenges the idea of staying within a caloric deficit) and consult with a nutritionist, as diet is thought to have the highest correlation with weight loss/gain. 

If running and walking aren’t the most effective ways to lose weight and build muscle- what are the benefits of each? 

  • Running and walking both work your cardiovascular & aerobic energy systems making certain life tasks easier. 
  • Over time, both running and walking make your heart and lungs stronger, allowing your heart to pump more blood per beat and your lungs to take in more air per breath. 
  • Running and walking both push your brain to release endorphins and can help your overall mood and mental health. 
  • Getting to the level of cardiovascular fitness that endurance running demands can help you move beyond the level of fitness just needed for daily activities. If you’re an athlete wanting to explore the country by bike, summit a peak, or set a record for a marathon, endurance running can help strengthen your cardiovascular system enough to meet these challenges.
  • Running and walking clubs help people stay active- which is a great way to build exercise consistency. 

We hope that this blog post shed light on why walking is considered a form of cardio exercise, and the benefits that you can expect to see from this type of exercise.

Contact us today to see how we can help you reach your exercise goals.


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*Please always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.