Brisk walking is as good as running for reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes risk -- three key players in the development of heart disease, a new study finds.
It's a matter of how far you walk or run, not how long, said Paul Williams, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.
"Both of these activities reduce risk factors, and if you expend the same amount of energy you get the same benefit," Williams said. The key was the more people walked or ran each week, the more their health improved, he said.
The findings suggest "there is now some choice in the exercise you want to do," he said. Some people find running more convenient, others prefer walking, especially people just starting to exercise, he noted.
The advantage of running is you can cover twice as much ground in the same amount of time as you would walking, Williams pointed out.
Williams is referring to brisk walking, however. "Walking for exercise. It's not a mosey kind of thing, but actually walking for exercise," he explained.
For the study, published online April 4 in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, Williams and Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, collected data from the National Runners' Health Study and the National Walkers' Health Study. More than 33,000 runners and nearly 16,000 walkers were involved.
The runners and walkers were 18 to 80 years old, but mostly in their 40s and 50s, the study authors noted.
Over six years, both running and walking led to similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, and perhaps even heart disease, the researchers found.
Specifically, Williams and Thompson found:
- Running reduced the risk of high blood pressure 4.2 percent and walking reduced the risk 7.2 percent.
- Running reduced the risk for high cholesterol 4.3 percent and walking lowered the risk 7 percent.
- Running lowered the risk for diabetes 12.1 percent and walking reduced the risk 12.3 percent.
- Running decreased the risk of heart disease 4.5 percent and walking reduced the risk 9.3 percent.
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a spokesman for the American Heart Association and professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said engaging in regular physical activity is well-established to maintain cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, stroke, and premature death.
The American Heart Association and other organizations highly recommend regular physical activity for the primary and secondary prevention of heart disease and stroke, he added.
"These findings suggest similar benefit for similar energy expenditures with exercise regardless of intensity," Fonarow said. "However, for those who are capable of engaging in more vigorous exercise, this may be the more time-efficient strategy."
Other research using data from the walkers' and runners' studies found that for weight loss, running beats walking. That study appears in the April issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
SOURCES: Paul Williams, Ph.D., staff scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, life science division, Berkeley, Calif.; Gregg Fonarow, M.D., spokesman, American Heart Association, and professor, cardiology, University of California, Los Angeles; April 4, 2013, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology