Hiking Compared to Walking on a Treadmill

If you’re hiking at a high altitude, expect to burn 1,000 calories per hour.

If you’re hiking at a high altitude, expect to burn 1,000 calories per hour.

If you want to fend off fat and other dreaded diseases, you need to stop catnapping on the couch and get moving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you need at least 300 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. Walking on a treadmill and hiking, an extension of walking, are easy ways to meet that requirement. Because you carry the weight of your body, both activities strengthen your bones and muscles, increase oxygen intake and burn fat. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to the different types of walking.

Energy Expenditure

In contrast to walking on a treadmill, hiking tends to burn more calories. While a mild hike burns about 400 calories per hour, a moderate hike on hills burns 600 calories per hour. An intense hike can burn up to 900 calories per hour, according to Roger White’s “Soar: The Workbook: Achieving Your Best Possible Health through Awareness.” A walk on a treadmill for a 120-pound person burns about 190 calories per hour, and for a 150-pound person, that calorie burn increases to about 235 calories per hour. Walking on different surfaces also impacts calories burned. If you walk on sand, the terrain will resist the forward thrust of your feet. Calf muscles work extra hard to deal with foot slippage. Compared to a treadmill walk, a hike in soft snow will triple the amount of energy you use, according to William McArdle’s “Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance.”

Impact on Joints

A treadmill deck provides a cushioned surface for your joints, legs, back and feet. In contrast to outdoor concrete or rocky surfaces, it’s built for shock absorption and flexes beneath your feet. If you have shin splints or suffer from back, knee or hip pain, it’s safer to walk on a treadmill than hike outside. Hiking downhill can put stress on your knees and ankles. For example, if you twist your knees frequently or roll your ankles too far inward while making the descent, these repeated movements can cause your joints to swell and even injure them. If you’re climbing steep hills on your hike, you can put excessive pressure on the area under your kneecap that comes up against your thigh bone, according to an article in “Backpacker.”

The Control of a Treadmill

If you walk on a treadmill, you can control not only the environment but also the treadmill settings. Once you set the incline and speed of a treadmill, they don’t suddenly shift in mid-gait. You can also change the settings to increase the intensity of your workout. For example, if you want to raise your heart rate up a notch, you can simply press the up button on the incline level. Even a small incline change of one to two percent will boost your heart rate and mimic the wind resistance of an outdoor environment, according to Sally Edwards’ “Be a Better Runner.” In contrast to an outdoor hike, you don’t have to worry about whether the weather is too hot, too cold, raining or snowing. Walking on a treadmill can provide an efficient workout within minimum headaches.

Downhill Walking

Walking downhill is a form of negative work, which occurs when your center of mass moves in a vertical and downward motion. You expend less energy on an eccentric, or lengthening, muscular contraction than on the concentric, or shortening, contraction required to walk uphill. Hiking downhill can also decrease your oxygen intake and energy expenditure. However, the work load increases when the decline is steep. Your body must constantly brake from the pull of gravity as well as achieve a stable walking rhythm. When you walk on a treadmill, you can avoid all downhill motion in your gait cycle.

 

About the Author

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.

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