What Is Better for Exercise: Basketball or Long Distance Running?

Teenagers playing basketball

Basketball and long-distance running are viable cardiovascular options that will tax your body in different ways. Basketball is a high-intensity interval exercise that requires you to go all out in short bursts, followed by periods of rest, while long-distance running is considered a steady-state exercise. When deciding which exercise option is right for you, there are several factors you should take into account.


At first glance, long distance running is the better option if you’re looking to burn calories. According to the Mayo Clinic, a 160-pound person will burn approximately 606 calories per hour running at a 5 mph pace and 861 calories running at an 8 mph pace. Basketball, meanwhile, only burns 584 calories per hour. This calculation, however, does not take into account EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. EPOC is the amount of calories your body burns after you stop exercising. After steady-state exercises like jogging, EPOC is minimal, but after high intensity interval training (HIIT) such as basketball, your body will continue to burn calories at an elevated rate for up to 48 hours. In one study published in the September 2011 edition of the journal "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" subjects burned an additional 190 calories in the 14 hours following a HIIT workout. When EPOC is taken into account, playing basketball burns at least as many calories as long-distance running, if not more.

Muscle and Bone Strength

Another benefit that stems from playing basketball is increased muscle strength. Basketball is considered a high impact exercise that requires constant jumping. High impact sports and exercises are demanding on muscles, which in turn, causes them to grow and strengthen. These findings were confirmed in a study on high-intensity intermittent exercises published in the March 2012 issue of the "Journal of Obesity." According to the study, similar muscle improvements were not made after steady-state low-impact exercises.

Social Benefits

Long-distance running is often a solitary sport while basketball is by nature a group or social sport. According to a study conducted at the University of Oxford, rowers who exercised as a group had a higher pain threshold and higher levels of feel-good endorphins than rowers who exercised on their own. This study may prove that exercising with others is more pleasurable than exercising alone, providing more incentive for many people to choose this type of exercise and continue with it long term.


While basketball appears to be a better exercise option than long-distance running given the factors above, it does not mean it is the right option for everyone. If you prefer running or solitary sports, this factor may far outweigh the caloric or muscle-building benefits of basketball because you are more likely to stick to an exercise you enjoy. In the long run, the key to exercise is consistency, so choosing an exercise that you can continue long-term is the most important factor in the long-run.