Running Versus Swimming: Which One Is Better For You?

Whether you prefer running or swimming as a means of squeezing routine exercise into your schedule, you can't lose. Both are excellent forms of aerobic exercise with millions of enthusiasts. According to a 2020 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), roughly 50 million Americans engaged in some form of running or jogging in 2019. Meanwhile, according to Statista, over 27 million Americans aged six years old and up participated in swimming for fitness purposes in 2018.

Not sure which exercise you should devote more of your time to?  According to evidence-based science, both swimming and running have long-term health benefits. A 2018 report from the Physical Activities Guidelines for Americans supports the public health target recommendation of engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity between two and a half hours and five hours per week. Engaging in swimming or running for a minimum of two and a half hours per week helps improve brain function, promotes better sleep, prevents disease, and reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.

This is where running and swimming differ

When it comes to burning calories, both swimming and running have got you covered. According to U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS), a 154-pound person swimming freestyle for 100 yards at a two-minute pace can burn between 700 and 875 calories in an hour. By comparison, running at a 12-minute mile pace for an hour can burn between 500 and 600 calories. Harvard Health published data on the number of calories a person can burn in 30 minutes while performing activities such as running and swimming, based on their body weight.

A popular fat-burning technique is high-intensity interval (HIIT) training, which involves repeated rounds of quick, intense activity followed by a period of recovery. Combining running and swimming for HIIT training could be a good scenario, physical therapist Jena Gatses tells Healthline. However, if you need to put less pressure on your joints, swimming is the better option. Swimming is also safer if you have a lower-body injury, though it's not good if you have shoulder issues. Running, however, helps you build up bone density. Also, as running is often an outdoor activity, it can help your body get a dose of vitamin D.

So when deciding whether to run or swim, consider your joints, any injuries, and if you have access to a pool. Otherwise, both are effective activities that will do your body good in the long run — or perhaps, the long swim.