Difference Between Walking a Mile & Stair Stepping a Mile

Legs of woman doing step aerobics

Any type of physical activity can improve your health. However, three factors – duration, frequency and intensity – determine how effective the benefits can be. Depending on how long, how often and your speed, walking can be a low- to moderate-intensity activity, while stair stepping can be a moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity. Both forms of exercise are great for cardio, require very little experience and can be done separately or combined for interval training.

Walking Benefits

Walking has a multitude of cardiovascular benefits. It can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cholesterol and hypertension. Walking is also effective for toning muscles and burning calories. Caloric expenditures for walking greatly depends on distance and speed. For most people, walking a mile burns approximately 100 calories, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

Walking and stair stepping provide similar cardiovascular benefits. Stair stepping is an effective aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercise. While using a stair stepper, your thighs and buttock muscles engage more than when walking on flat surfaces. You can burn more calories on a stair stepper than walking because of the increased intensity level. A mile on a stair stepper can be difficult to determine. However, wearing a pedometer is an easy way to track your steps. One mile equals approximately 2,000 to 2,500 pedometer steps.


A 15-year study, conducted by the University of North Carolina in 2009 of 4,995 men and women showed that the average middle-aged American gains about 2.2 pounds a year. The study also indicated that the more you walk, the less weight you gain. You can burn 204 to 305 calories from walking 2 mph for a one-hour duration, depending on your intensity level. If you walked approximately 4.7 mph, you will burn just as many calories as you would running. Stair stepping burns up to 50 percent more than walking. Calories are burned two to three times faster stair stepping at a slow pace than walking briskly on level ground.

Muscles Worked

The upward movement in stair stepping is what really separates it from walking because it emphasizes lower body muscles that must work harder to lift your body, says personal trainer William Sukala, MS, CSCS on the Weight Watchers website. However, walking provides an overall body conditioning workout. Carrying light weights while walking or stair stepping can add strength training to your exercise.