Calories Burned Per Mile: A Fitness Myth Debunked

Do you burn the same number of calories per mile whether you walk or run?

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There's a lot of misinformation out there about exercise and nutrition. In this recurring feature, I ask experts in those fields about their fitness pet peeves—common myths that are just plain wrong. This week, I talked to Conrad Earnest, an exercise biologist at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Institute.

Myth: You burn the same number of calories whether you walk or run a mile.

Explanation: Not true. The general reason is that your body becomes less efficient as you switch from walking to jogging to running, requiring more and more energy to cover the same distance. In other words, a mile is not a mile is not a mile. If your goal is to lose weight, running would be a better option.

That said, many people simply don't like running for a variety of legitimate reasons. Fair enough. In that case, learn to walk faster! It has also been established that walking a 13-minute mile or faster is tremendously "inefficient." Because of that inefficiency, you will burn more calories the faster you get and, in essence, get more bang for your buck.

The key to walking faster is to get your arms to move faster. That's right, faster arms mean faster legs. The optimal position for your arms is to let them hang naturally from your shoulders and bent at the elbows at about 90 degrees. On the back swing, do not allow your hand to move past your hip. On the upswing, allow your hand to swing through to the midline of your body. It should end up just above your navel and a little lower than your sternum. Keep your hands relaxed, and let your legs follow your hands.

Related: Read about what running can (and can't) do for your health. See what two orthopedists say about running and your knees. Learn how to start running. Here's how you can get a better workout in a shorter amount of time.