- Researchers found walking is just as good as running in reducing risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
- Study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California found total energy used was more important than intensity
A brisk long walk is as good as a run for cutting the risk of heart disease, researchers say.
This is because the most important factor is not intensity but the total energy used.
In the first study of its kind, researchers found that walking briskly can lower the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – all problems that can lead to heart disease – as much as running does.
But the benefits of both types of regular exercise were compared among 48,000 adults and found to be almost the same.
So long as the energy used is similar, the health boost is similar, says a report in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
Paul T Williams, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said the findings were surprising but showed the key factor was the number of calories worked off in each form of activity. ‘Walking and running provide an ideal test of the health benefits… because they involve the same muscle groups and the same activities performed at different intensities,’ he said.
He estimates a person would need to walk 4.3 miles at a brisk pace to have the same amount of exercise as running 3 miles. It would take twice as long – around an hour and 15 minutes instead of 38 minutes, he said.
The six-year study analysed 33,060 runners and 15,045 walkers.
When the same total energy was used for moderate-intensity walking as for vigorous-intensity running, it resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and, possibly, coronary heart disease.
Unlike previous studies, the researchers assessed walking and running by distance, not by time. Dr Williams said: ‘The more the runners ran and the walkers walked, the better off they were in health benefits. If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable.’
Among runners, about half were men. Their average age was 48 for men and 41 for women. Of the walkers, only 21 per cent were men. Average ages were 62 for men and 53 for women. The walkers were more likely to be overweight and to smoke.
The researchers found that runners’ risk of high blood pressure was reduced by 4.2 per cent, high cholesterol by 4.3 per cent, diabetes by 12.1 per cent and coronary heart disease by 4.5 per cent.
Among walkers, the risk of high blood pressure was cut by 7.2 per cent, high cholesterol by 7 per cent, diabetes by 12.3 per cent and coronary heart disease by 9.3 per cent.
But because of the different make-up of the two groups, the results are statistically equivalent, researchers say.
Dr Williams said the snag is that runners often expend more energy than walkers – thus reaping more gains.
‘Walking may be a more sustainable activity for some people,’ he said.
‘However, those who choose running end up exercising twice as much as those that choose walking. This is probably because they can do twice as much in an hour.’
Official UK guidelines say people should do 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week – but three in four Britons fail to achieve this.
Doireann Maddock, of the British Heart Foundation, said the findings show ‘that any brisk physical activity, not just those long, exhausting runs, can be great news for your heart health.
‘We know the best type of activity for your heart is moderate-intensity aerobic activity and that includes walking – as long as you feel warmer, breathe harder and your heart beats faster than usual.
‘Whether it’s walking, jogging or running, staying active will help control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve your mental health.’