Skip to main content

Cardio vs Walking for Unlocking Wellness and Vitality

Walking offers an accessible and affordable start to cardio fitness, while high-intensity exercises like running delivers enhanced endurance, heart health, and calorie burn.

5 min readJuly 25th, 2023

The truth is that walking is a form of cardiovascular (cardio) exercise. For most people, walking is a lower-intensity, low-impact exercise, while cardio is more intense, with a higher heart rate and more calories burned.

Your choice will depend on your fitness level, goals, and, most importantly, your preferences.

After all, the best exercise is the one you’ll stick with. So let’s dive in and learn the pros and cons of each, who they’re best for, and how to get started.

Cardio vs. Walking: Everything you need to know

Cardio is any movement that significantly raises your heart rate, is rhythmic, and is sustained. Walking and other cardio exercises improve your heart health, boost your mood, and lengthen your lifespan. Both can be done outdoors or indoors and can be an excellent addition to your exercise routine.

Cardio is a higher-intensity activity that burns more calories and requires a higher fitness level. In addition, cardio exercises such as running, HIIT, burpees, and plyometrics increase the stress on your joints due to the higher impact forces (though that’s a good thing in the long term).

Because of these reasons, speak to your doctor before starting any high-intensity exercise routine.

Types of Cardio Exercise

There are dozens of different cardio exercises, so you’re sure to find one you like. This is good news because we’re all supposed to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly exercise.

Here is a list of cardio exercises that you can try:

  • Running
  • Sprinting
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Dancing
  • Martial arts
  • Team sports like soccer, basketball, track, etc.
  • Zumba
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Boxing
  • Water aerobics
  • Kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing
  • Jump rope
  • Skating
  • HIIT
  • Rucking
  • Burpees, jumping jacks, bear crawls
  • Group classes like boot camp and trampoline
  • Hula hooping
  • Circuit training
  • Plyometrics

Pros & Cons of Cardio

Cardio has extensive physical and mental benefits, including improving heart health, boosting mood, relieving stress, and treating and preventing some chronic diseases, to name a few. Most people do cardio for health benefits or to help with fat loss.

Everyone should incorporate cardio into their programming to maintain overall health and fitness, 2-3 sessions per week. Cardio has many benefits and almost as many ways you can enjoy them.

Moderate to high-intensity cardio options are best for those without significant injury histories, folks with a fitness foundation, and those looking to amp up their training.

  • Tremendous benefits to your cardiovascular health, including lowering your blood pressure, clearing your arteries of deadly plaque, lowering your bad cholesterol (LDL), and raising good cholesterol (HDL)
  • Helps treat and prevent chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke
  • Burns more calories than walking
  • Improves joint health and decreases the risk of osteoporosis
  • Releases endorphins that will enhance your mood
  • Extends your lifespan
  • Improves endurance and overall fitness
  • Reduces stress
  • Great for recovery and cross-training with strength sports
  • The higher impact causes higher stress on the joints, which can be uncomfortable, especially for those carrying excess weight
  • Greater risk of injury due to over-training or from an inadequate warm-up
  • Long steady-state cardio sessions can be tedious and time-consuming
  • High-intensity exercises like HIIT, plyometrics, and running are easy to overdo, which causes muscle soreness that makes it challenging to stick to a routine

Pros & Cons of Walking

Unlike some of the more intense forms of cardio, walking is an exercise that most people can start today. Walking is one of the lowest impact, most accessible, and lowest intensity exercises and comes with immense benefits.

You don’t need a gym membership or expensive equipment to walk—just a pair of supportive shoes, and you’re off. Of course, you can walk on a treadmill, but walking outside has a few additional benefits.

  • Walking in nature has been shown to improve mood, boost energy levels, and reduce stress levels
  • Walking outside can be more challenging due to obstacles and varying terrain

Whether outside or on a treadmill, walking is an activity that can be done daily with little risk of over-training. Research shows that whether you choose long or shorter walks throughout the day-you'll still reap the benefits. So if you're using walking as a form of exercise, shoot for at least 60 minutes total each day (about 4,000 steps).

  • Sustainable form of exercise
  • Reduces stress
  • Burns calories
  • Great for recovery and cross-training with strength sports
  • Releases endorphins that will enhance your mood
  • Extends your lifespan
  • Improves endurance
  • Improves cardiovascular health
  • Helps treat and prevent chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke
  • Improves joint health and decreases the risk of osteoporosis
  • Super easy to incorporate into your life
  • Burns significantly fewer calories than other forms of exercise
  • Less impact on heart and joint health than more intense cardio options
  • If you’re only option is walking outside, pavement places higher stress on your joints than other surfaces
  • Safety concerns and poor weather conditions can also challenge you if you regularly walk outdoors

How to Incorporate Walking Into Your Day

Unlike many other forms of exercise, you can confidently and safely start walking today-no trainer required. Try these strategies to begin walking or increase your daily steps.

  • Park farther away from your destination (whenever safe)
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Make it a fun game by using a step counter
  • Walk instead of taking public transportation (whenever safe)
  • Owning a dog is another great way to add steps if you have space in your home for a furry friend
  • Set a goal and stick to it. Consistency is key to building habits that last.
  • Join a walking group or find a walking buddy for extra accountability.

Which One is Right for You?

While cardio exercises and walking have many benefits in common, there are some key differences when considering which is suitable for you.

If you’re new to exercise or you’ve taken a long break-check in with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Try Walking if:

  • You are cleared for exercise but are new or returning from a break. Gradually increase your distance and your pace
  • You have a history of injuries or joint problems
  • You have asthma or any condition that can be triggered by heavy breathing
  • You don’t enjoy higher-intensity activities
  • You enjoy spending time in nature and don’t want to rush

Try Cardio If:

  • Your doctor clears you for moderate to intense exercise, and you want to amp up your workouts
  • You’ve been walking, and it’s no longer challenging
  • You want to prepare for a specific endurance event like running or participate in team sports
  • Your goal is fat loss, so calories burned matter to you
  • You want to take your cardiovascular health to the next level

No matter which you choose, walking and cardio are great for your heart, reduce stress, and improve your mood and overall health.

Get our fitness newsletter

Stay on track with your fitness goals and get inspired! Sign up for the GymBird newsletter for twice-monthly expert fitness and nutrition tips.

The Bottom Line

Walking is a less intense form of cardiovascular exercise that is accessible, affordable, and easy to start.

On the other hand, cardio exercises like running, swimming, martial arts, and dance are higher intensity and deliver even more benefits such as greater endurance, heart health, and more calories burned.

Walking and all other forms of cardio are excellent for your health, and you should get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. Walking could be moderate intensity, depending on your fitness level.

No matter what cardio exercise you choose, staying consistent and challenging yourself when your body adjusts will help you stay healthy and fit for life.

More Cardio Advice from GymBird Experts

More Walking Advice