How Many Calories Can You Burn on a Treadmill?: Walking vs. Running

Walking or running on a treadmill provides a number of benefits compared to walking or running outdoors. Indoor use of a treadmill is a great way to avoid lots of obstacles that are unique to the outdoors, like the blistering sun, potential heat exhaustion, mosquitoes, traffic, and air pollution. 

Treadmills can also make your workout safer and more effective. While running is a high-impact exercise no matter the surface, the treadmill’s softer track reduces the impact on your body, like protecting your joints and knees from excessive wear and tear, compared to concrete sidewalks. Most treadmills also come with finger pulse pads, which can read and track your heart rate, helping you stay in your target heart rate zone. Some treadmills even allow you to input your personal information, like age and weight, so you can accurately count calories during your workout. 

Treadmills are an excellent addition to any workout, but in order to optimize your calorie burn, should you be walking or running? To determine the answer, let’s break down how calories are burned.

How Many Calories Are You Burning?

Let’s begin with a quick biology refresher. When you’re exercising, your body is running on energy units that you’ve ingested from food. These are called calories. The number of calories you burn during any given activity depends on a few variables. 

Weight, gender, and body composition are three parts of the equation that you largely cannot control when it comes to burning calories. Someone who weighs more is going to burn more calories because their weight adds resistance during their workout. More weight means more fuel needs to be expended to lift it, which is why adding resistance training to your workout helps burn more calories.

Body composition refers to the percentage of fat and muscle in your body. Because muscle takes more energy to move, someone who has a higher muscle percentage is going to burn more calories during the same workout as someone who weighs the same but has a higher fat percentage. This is why adding strength training to your fitness routine is important for weight loss.

A person’s gender can also play a part in calorie expenditure because men typically have a higher muscle percentage than women.

The two variables you can control are the intensity and duration of your workout. Intensity refers to how hard you’re working out and can be tracked using your heart rate. Duration is the length of time you spend exercising.

Online calculators or apps such as the Calorie Control Council’s Get Moving! Calculator or Lose It! can take your personal data and tell you approximately how many calories you will burn during a specific workout. You should compare these numbers to the figure recorded by your treadmill, as data may vary.

Most of the calculators you find will be based on the Compendium of Physical Activities, which is an online resource compiled by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Arizona State University. This database provides a reference for researchers to figure out how many calories an activity burns. It is available to the public, and you can look up a variety of activities, including running and walking on treadmills.

Walking vs. Running

Running burns more calories per hour, but does that mean it’s the best workout for you? Not necessarily. If you’re just beginning to work out on a treadmill, jumping into running right away might be too intense for you. Working out too hard, especially if you’re just starting out, can reduce the likelihood that you’ll stick with your exercise plan. Walking is a much better way to introduce your body to cardio: You can still challenge yourself by inserting spurts of running into your walk or by walking at a brisk enough pace that your heart rate will be elevated for the duration of your workout. 

image of legs calf down on treadmill

Depending on your fitness level, you might be more inclined to walk for longer than you would be able to run. Let’s do some simple math regarding calories burned on treadmills: A person that weighs 145 pounds running 10 mph for 15 minutes will burn 198 calories. That’s not bad, but 10 mph is a fairly quick pace to maintain for most people who are just starting out. On the other hand, that same person walking 2.9 mph on an incline of 6% to 15% for half an hour will burn approximately 219 calories. An extra 15 minutes would bump the calories burned up to 328. Running might be a more efficient way to burn calories, but you don’t want to overexert yourself and risk either injuring yourself or quitting your routine.

Walking is also lower impact than running, which means it is better for your joints. This is a particularly attractive option if you are recovering from an injury. However, you should always consult your physician before engaging in any exercise after an injury.

If you feel comfortable running, it is a more efficient way to burn calories compared to walking. It also makes it easier to hit your target heart rate and provides more resistance for your legs, which means you’ll be toning muscles while engaging in cardio. 

Whether you decide on walking, running, or a mix of both, a study from 2013 found that when participants burned the same number of calories (whether by walking or running), they experienced the same reduction in hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, and in some cases, coronary heart disease.

Increase Your Calorie Burn

Whether you’re walking or running on a treadmill, there are ways you can increase your calorie burn while you exercise. 

  • Increase your treadmill’s incline. The number of calories burned on a treadmill increases by about 12% for every degree of incline
  • Gradually increase your speed. Aim for 4.5 to 10 mph for running and 2.8 to 4 mph for walking.
  • Let go of the handles and pump your arms. Add weights once you’re comfortable. (You won’t be able to use the heart rate monitor if you do this.) 
  • Do walking lunges. Slow down your pace and lengthen your strides to feel the burn.
  • Reverse. Walking backward engages different muscles and is therefore a great way to vary your workout. Remember to keep your core tight to reduce your risk of falling!
  • HIIT workouts. Toggle between running as fast as you can and walking at a more moderate speed. You can find additional routines online.

Calories Burned on Treadmill While Walking

Keeping with our baseline of a 145-pound person, walking at a brisk pace of 3.5 mph with no incline burns about 176 calories during a 45-minute workout. If you raise the incline by two degrees, you can burn another 42 calories. If you add in intervals of running at 6 mph with no incline for a total of 15 minutes, you will have burned another 134, or a total of 352 calories for an hour of exercise. If you leave the incline at two degrees while you run, you can burn an extra 32 calories in those 15 minutes. That’s 384 calories, or more than a whole pint of Halo Top ice cream. Not bad!

Calories Burned on Treadmill While Running

If you are 145 pounds, running for 45 minutes at 7 mph will burn 451 calories. If you raise the incline by two, you can burn an additional 108 calories. If you add in intervals of running at 9 mph for a total of 15 minutes on a two-degree incline, you will increase your calories burned by 217, meaning that you could potentially burn 776 calories during an hour-long workout. That’s almost half of your day’s calories if you’re following a 1,500-calorie diet plan.

Tips for Making Your Workouts Work for You

No matter how you’re working out, it’s always important to stay hydrated. Staying hydrated will keep you feeling your best while you exercise. It’s best to drink water at least an hour in advance of your workout to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of water sloshing around in your stomach. But, if you need a drink while you train, you can take a break to slowly sip on room temperature water. 

Listening to music can also energize your exercise routine. Find or create a playlist that keeps you moving to your chosen tempo. This will help you regulate your speed while keeping you pumped up for the duration of your workout.

Sticking to a healthy diet and sleep schedule can also reinforce the positive habits you’re trying to establish by exercising. Eating healthy also means that you’re fueling your body properly, so you can give it your all every time.

man picking red and green apples from grocery store

Remember to do what feels right for your body and increase the intensity of your workouts as you become more accustomed to the pace. As long as you’re challenging your body with physical exercise every day, you’ll see results in no time!