Is Walking as Good as Running?

People who do equivalent amounts of running and walking have the same degree of benefit in terms of blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.

Background: According to CDC classification, running is a “vigorous” exercise, because runners usually end up sweaty and short of breath. They burn about eight times more energy than they would sitting on the couch. Meanwhile walking is “moderate” exercise that involves 3.8 times more energy than sitting.

 

The Study: When the 33,000 participants in the National Runners’ Health Study were compared to the 15,000 participants in the National Walkers’ Health Study, the runners appeared to have much better heart health than the walkers. Their risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes was reduced by 38, 36, and 71 percent, respectively, regardless of how much running they reported doing. So running is not only sweatier, it’s also healthier, right?

Researchers took the data from the walkers’ and runners’ health study, and controlled for how much energy the exercisers were expending. By looking at it this way, they were attempting to compare the inherent benefits of each form of exercise. The participants, who ranged in age from 18 to 80, all reported their height, weight, diet, and the miles per week they spent walking or running. They were followed for about 6 years, during which time the researchers tracked all health problems.

Results:Regardless of whether exercise was vigorous (running) or not (walking), as long as participants used the same amount of energy, they saw more or less equivalent health benefits. Runners saw a reduced risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and coronary artery disease by 4.2, 4.3, 12.1, and 4.5 percent, respectively. The walkers’ risk reduction for each condition was 7.2, 7, 12.3, and 9.3 percent — amounts that didn’t differ significantly from the runners’ results. The more energy walkers and runners used, the more their cardiovascular health improved.

What Does This Mean? The key to improved cardiovascular health, according to this study, is calorie expenditure, regardless of how it’s expended. Runners aren’t healthier by virtue of being runners — they’re just more efficient in their exercising. If you prefer walking, you can be just as well off, health-wise. “Assuming a slow jogging speed of a 12 minute mile, compared to a walking speed of 17 minute miles, you would need to walk about 50 percent further to expend the same energy as running,” lead author Paul Williams explains. In terms of time, “you would need to walk for about twice as long.”

 

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter. Of course, the disclaimer: Do not begin an exercise program without input from an appropriate medical professional. Many can simply start with a brisk walk for 30 minutes daily, 5 days per week. Have a wonderful day!

References:

  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/study-walking-can-be-as-good-as-running/274738/?utm_source=atlfb
  2. Walking Versus Running for Hypertension, Cholesterol, and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction” is published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

Want to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease? Move!

woman walking outdoors sports

For women over 30, physical inactivity may be the single greatest contributor to heart disease risk.

The Evidence: Researchers followed 32,154 Australian women in three age groups: those born between 1973-78, 1946-51, and 1921-26. They the applied a math formula called population attributable risk (P.A.R.) that indicates the percentage reduction in diseases that would be achieved in a given population if exposure to a specific risk were eliminated.

The importance of the most common risk factors for heart disease – smoking, high blood pressure, physical activity, and excess weight – varies with age.

  • For the population under 30, smoking is the greatest contributor to heart disease. In fact, stopping smoking would reduce the risk of heart disease in this group twice as effectively as reducing high body mass index.
  • For women in their 70s, being physically active would lower the P.A.R. almost three times as much as stopping smoking, and significantly more than reducing blood pressure or achieving a healthy body weight.

My Take: This is just one more reminder that women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s get moving. Aim for a minimum of the equivalent of a brisk walk for 30 minutes, 5 times per week. And if you are moving, move more. 

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

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Reference: New York Times 13 May 2014 (derived from online publication of the British Journal of Sports Medicine).