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Walking vs. Cycling: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?
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Walking vs. Cycling: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on November 22, 2022
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9 min

Today, we look at the difference between bike riding and walking in terms of being the superior exercise. Which one fits into your routine? Stick with us to find out.

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The cycling vs. walking debate has plagued many fitness enthusiasts over the years. However, both exercises inspire similar health benefits while using the same muscles.

But how do they compare to each other? In today’s article, we compare the health benefits of bike riding and walking. 

From burning calories to fat metabolism to lower body development, we look at the roles each exercise plays in promoting positive health to unveil if you should go bike riding or walking.

Without much time wastage, let’s cycle in!

Differences Between Walking and Cycling

There are several differences between walking and cycling. The main difference between walking and cycling centers on burning calories – cycling burns twice as many calories at higher intensities than walking.

Secondly, walking is, by large, an aerobic workout, while cycling is a leg workout. As such, more people walk to improve aerobic function and cycle to improve muscle development. 

Lastly, walking is a weight-bearing exercise, while cycling is a non-weight-bearing exercise. This means the biking machine helps with a bit of the workload, unlike walking, where your body does all the work.  

Is walking as good as cycling?

Yes, walking is just as good as cycling when it comes to aerobic class workouts. It is a low-impact workout that burns significant calories, impacts mental well-being, enhances cardiorespiratory function, and develops the musculoskeletal system.

It is also a great addition to your interval training program. Still, it is evident that cycling is the superior workout. 

In any case, you can improve your walking exercise by incorporating the Walking.Diet program into your exercise routine. Walking.Diet is a fitness program that combines personalized workouts and meal plans into one unit. 

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Which Burns More Calories: Walking or Biking?

In general, cycling burns more calories than walking. Biking is a more strenuous activity requiring your body to generate power to keep moving.

At moderate speeds of about 12mph, 30 minutes of cycling will lead to a 200–700 calorie burn count. However, under the same criteria (walking speeds of about 4mph), walking burns about 135–189 calories.

To paint a more detailed picture, a 155-pound person will burn 175 calories walking at 4mph for 30 minutes. The same person will burn 288 calories road cycling at 12mph for 30 minutes. 

Regardless, a couple of factors determine the number of calories burned while partaking in either exercise. These factors include the person’s weight, distance traveled, speed, and exercise intensity.

For example, a person who weighs more will have a higher calorie burn than a person of the same height who weighs less because they have to work harder to move their body. Likewise, exercising at a faster pace while covering long distances burns more calories.

If all you care about is how to lose weight, then cycling is the best option for you. As such, you should look into investing in an indoor or outdoor bike.

However, if you seek an alternative that burns the same amount of calories over the same distance, you should try running.

Which Is Better for Muscle Gain: Walking or Cycling?

Another deciding factor when looking into both aerobic exercises is the ability to build muscles. 

For those looking to gain muscle mass, walking or cycling may not seem like the obvious choice, but both cycling and walking involve using the same muscle groups and can actually help build muscle. 

Both exercises typically target the muscles in the lower body, including the gluteal muscles, the thigh muscles, and the calf muscles. But they do so at different levels.

Walking is primarily an aerobic exercise, which helps improve cardiovascular fitness. However, it also works the same muscles used in weightlifting exercises such as squats and lunges. As a result, regular walkers can see an increase in the size and strength of their leg muscles.

On the other hand, cycling is primarily a leg exercise, and muscle activation increases when you cycle fast, especially during non-seated cycling

The quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves all work tirelessly to produce force during the push-down phase of cycling, more so than during the push-off phase of walking. 

As a result, cyclists see a bigger increase in the size and strength of their leg muscles. It also works out your core and back muscles. 

Regardless, the intensity of your cycling workout will determine how well your muscles look. Track cyclists tend to have larger and more well-defined muscles than indoor cyclists. 

But the size difference does not always come from logging hours of intense cycling sessions. That is where strength training comes into play.

Weight lifting and other high-level weight-bearing activities will stimulate muscle hypertrophy better than any other form of exercise. Combined with cardio at alternating intensities, you can quickly build your fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers.

While both exercises are great for building muscle strength and size, cycling helps build muscle mass more than walking since it requires the muscles to exert more force. You can fuel more muscle activation with your walking exercise by taking a walk uphill, up a flight of stairs, or using the StairMaster.

Which Is Better for Heart Health?

Walking and cycling are great for improving cardiovascular fitness levels and keeping heart disease at bay. However, the CDC establishes that physical inactivity is a huge risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, amongst other chronic diseases. 

Statistics reveal that about 86.2 million people in the United States suffer from one or more cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, the metric places it as the leading cause of mortality between men and women. 

Concerning which exercise is best for heart health, both offer the same benefits, but cycling is more efficient than walking. 

That is because you work harder in a steady, rhythmic manner, thus improving your heart, lungs, and circulation. Regular bike riding will strengthen your heart muscles, lower resting pulse, and blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and reduce blood fat levels.

However, it would be best if you worked out within the stipulated guidelines to enhance your cardiovascular system.

The American Heart Association demands that adults partake in moderate-intensity aerobic exercises like walking or high-intensity exercises like cycling as it can help reduce the risk of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and coronary heart disease. 

In addition, research by the University of Glasgow stated that bike riding to work daily reduces the likelihood of death by natural causes by as much as 41%. In comparison, walking reduces the risk of dying from heart problems by 36%. 

Based on the stipulated guidelines, adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of high-intensity workouts, or an equal mix of both every week to live a healthy lifestyle. This typically equates to 30 minutes of exercise daily over a 5-day period.

Still, the guidelines mainly hammer on the minimum requirements, meaning you are free to expand on those numbers.

If walking is your preferred option, try exploring multiple ways of walking, like hiking or taking 10,000 steps daily. On the other hand, if you are more interested in bike riding, then invest in an outdoor or stationary bike.

Which Is Better for Toning Muscles?

In the same way, cycling is a better workout for building muscles.

The effort that goes into combating resistance from bike pedaling supersedes that of a weight-bearing exercise like walking. The difference in effort is even more evident when walking on any flat terrain. 

Your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, core, and back work tirelessly, leading to better muscular development. At the same time, you must understand that the approach to developing muscular strength and size will differ from person to person.  

Working out tirelessly is not the only criterion for proper muscle development. Diet restrictions, gender, lifestyle, body fat percentage, weight, and fitness goals will influence how well you tone your muscles. 

Budget Comparison

Walking remains the least expensive of the two exercises, requiring the least amount of special equipment. With walking, your primary concern centers on getting traditional workout gear. These include appropriate clothes, walking shoes, and a bottle of water. 

However, if you are going the extreme route, like taking a hike through mountainous regions, you probably need to invest in safety equipment, a fire pack, a first aid kit, layered clothes, a flashlight with spare batteries, and many more. The inclusion of these serves to increase your chances of survival. 

On the other hand, with cycling, do not stop at getting traditional workout gear. It would be best to settle between a stationary, road, or mountain bike, and the cost of acquiring and maintaining either one is on the high side.

Standard stationary bikes cost upwards of $200, mountain bikes cost around $400, and road bikes go for over $200. If you can’t afford it, you can opt for a gym membership, as most gyms are equipped with stationary bikes. 

Injury Prevention

The injury factor of cycling and walking is on the low side compared to other workouts since both exercises are relatively low-impact. 

As such, your risk of joint pain and other bone-related issues is on the low end. Still, both exercises do induce their fair share of injuries.

For starters, cycling tends to cause lower back pain as cyclists retain a flexed trunk position for extended periods. Likewise, people who weigh more or suffer from some form of bone health tend to do poorly at walking, running, and other weight-bearing exercises. 

On the flip side, research reveals that going on regular walks can help reduce pain and exercise avoidance in those suffering from chronic lower back pain. It can also help improve bone density. Furthermore, both cycling and walking helped people with osteoarthritis pain management.

Regardless, if you suffer from recurring injuries or lingering pain, you should schedule a doctor’s appointment. They will examine you thoroughly and help you choose the best exercise for you. 

A Word From Our Coach

Walking and cycling are inherently ideal when it comes to weight loss and muscle building. They are also low-impact, meaning your risk of injury is low compared to running and other exercises.

However, both exercises demand that you exercise caution to avoid injuries. That is why you need to check in with your doctor to determine which exercise suits you best, especially if you have underlying health conditions.

Your workout goals might be second to none, but injuries can set you back big time.

Conclusion

Exercise is one of the keys to good health and living longer. When choosing the better workout between cycling and walking, the decision boils down to preference.

Both exercises offer great benefits, allowing you to burn fat and calories, lose weight, and keep cardiovascular disease at bay. You can also incorporate them into HIIT workouts.

Regardless, if your goal is to burn fat and lose weight, cycling is the exercise for you. On the other hand, if you wish to keep it simple while still impacting your physical and mental health, you should opt for walking.

Overall, you should make it a point to enjoy your exercises and listen to your body. That way, you get to reach your goal without any setbacks.

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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