Is it better to walk outside or on a treadmill?

Both burn calories, but nature offers extra benefits

Published: April 20, 2015 04:00 PM

Q. I love to walk but is it as good for me to walk on a treadmill as it is to walk outside?

A. Yes . . . and no. If you’re walking, the calorie-­burning and fitness benefits are about the same whether you walk on a treadmill or in the great outdoors. And the way the joints in your hips and knees move is very similar as well, suggesting risk for injury is no greater on the treadmill versus a sidewalk or a walking trail.

But strolling in nature—through a leafy neighborhood or beside a beautiful lake or stream, for example—can do more than an indoor walk to boost energy and reduce stress, depression, and negative emotions, researchers from the U.K.’s University of Exeter and University of Essex found after reviewing several recent studies.

Wherever it’s done, walking is great exercise. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends walking at a moderate pace for at least 30 minutes five times a week. Such a regimen can help reduce your heart disease risk, burn calories, and help improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

If you do walk outside be sure to follow some basic safety guidelines:

  • Wear proper and well-maintained footwear.
  • Walk on sidewalks. If you must walk in the street, walk facing traffic.
  • Hold your hand up or do whatever it takes to make yourself more visible to drivers.
  • Avoid walking in the dark and during bad weather such as rain or fog.
  • Wear light or bright-colored or reflective clothing, especially after dusk. Use a flashlight if you walk at night.
  • Don't text and walk.
Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the June 2015 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

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