Walking as much as Running Can Lower the Risk of Heart Disease
Great news! You don’t have to be a road runner to enjoy the heart-healthy benefits of hitting the treadmill or sidewalk. According to new research, walking briskly as much as running can lower the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. The findings are in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
Researchers analyzed 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study. They found that the same energy used for moderate intensity walking and vigorous intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and possibly coronary heart disease.
“Walking and running provide an ideal test of the health benefits of moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running because they involve the same muscle groups and the same activities performed at different intensities,” says Paul T. Williams, Ph.D., the study’s principal author and staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division in Berkeley, CA.
Consistent Walking or Running Pays Off
Unlike previous studies, the researchers assessed walking and running expenditure by distance, not by time. Participants provided activity data by responding to questionnaires.
“The more the runners ran and the walkers walked, the better off they were in health benefits,” says Williams. “If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable.”
The six-year study compared energy expenditure to self-reported, physician-diagnosed incident hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes and coronary heart disease. Researchers found:
- Running significantly reduced risk for first-time hypertension 4.2 percent and walking reduced risk 7.2 percent.
- Running reduced first-time high cholesterol 4.3 percent and walking 7 percent.
- Running reduced first-time diabetes 12.1 percent compared to 12.3 percent for walking.
- Running reduced coronary heart disease 4.5 percent compared to 9.3 percent for walking.
“Walking may be a more sustainable activity for some people when compared to running. However, those who choose running end up exercising twice as much as those who choose walking. This is probably because they can do twice as much in an hour,” Williams said.
Study participants were 18 to 80 years old, clustered in their 40s and 50s. Women represented 79 percent of the walkers and 48.6 percent of the runners.
“People are always looking for an excuse not to exercise, but now they have a straightforward choice to run or to walk and invest in their future health,” Williams says.