Walking vs. Elliptical Machine

This is a perennially popular issue. I answered a similar question last year, but there is more science worth discussing about elliptical training and walking.

As repeated studies show, the two activities differ significantly in terms of how much force is applied to various joints during each activity and how many calories each burns.

Minute for minute, using an elliptical machine is likely to burn more calories than walking. According to recent estimates by the Mayo Clinic, a 160-pound person using an elliptical machine for an hour would burn 365 calories. The same person walking for an hour would burn 314 calories. (If that person used a stair-stepping machine, he or she would burn 657 calories, by the Mayo calculations.)

The person on the elliptical machine also would put far less stress on his or her joints during the workout. You generate forces equivalent to about 110 percent of your body weight with each step while walking, according to a 2014 study, but only about three-quarters of your body weight while using an elliptical machine, making the latter training preferable for people with achy, arthritic knees and hips.

The arm movements associated with using an elliptical machine do not seem to provide much of an upper-body workout, but they do increase the activation of muscles around the hip joints and in the lower back, studies show, which would be useful for people who want stronger midsections.

On the other hand, walking provides a substantially better workout than elliptical machines for the hamstrings, calves and small muscles around the ankles, according to biomechanical studies. These muscles are important for balance and, if strong, reduce the risk of falls as people age.

It is also worth noting that elliptical machines were voted the least enjoyable and most confusing equipment in a 2014 test of gym machines, including treadmills.

Over all, the latest research suggests that elliptical machines are a good choice for people with creaky knees and the patience to master the machine’s operations. Others may prefer to walk.

Original article posted at NYTimes.com.

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