April 8, 2013

Time to Put on Your Walking Shoes

It turns out that walking can be just as good for the heart as running. Move along now.

If you've been feeling down on yourself because your daily exercise routine includes walking rather than running, don't. When it comes to some major measures of heart health, brisk walkers do just as well as runners. This is great news for those of us who don’t have the heart (or the knees) to be serious runners.

Rather than look at the time one spends running or walking, researchers measured the distance the participants covered at their respective paces. According to study author Paul T. Williams, running and walking are basically the same activity at different intensities, since they use the same muscle groups but simply require different energy expenditures.

The study looked at the heart health of some 33,000 runners in the National Runners' Health Study and over 15,000 walkers in the National Walkers' Health Study. Participants were tracked for six years, and various measures of hearth health, including cholesterol, blood pressure, and their likelihood of developing diabetes and heart disease were monitored. The participants ranged from 18 to 80 years old, but most were in their 40s and 50s.

Running and walking are basically the same activity at different intensities, since they use the same muscle groups but simply require different energy expenditures

When runners and walkers covered the same amount of ground, the heart benefits were just about the same. As expected, the more ground each group covered, the more their hearts benefited as a result. In some cases, there was actually a greater benefit for walkers. Here are some specific results:

  • Running lowered the risk of first-time hypertension (high blood pressure) 4.2%; walking reduced it by 7.2%.
  • Running lowered first-time high cholesterol by 4.3%; for walking it was reduced 7%.
  • Running and walking similarly reduced the risk of first-time diabetes: 12.1% for running, compared to 12.3% for walking.
  • Running reduced coronary heart disease 4.5% compared to 9.3% for walking.

The good news is that if your preferred gait is walking, your heart will reap similar benefits as it would from running, which can have its own set of drawbacks, since running is harder on the body. "Walking may be a more sustainable activity for some people when compared to running,” said Williams in a statement, adding, "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."

So get on those walking shoes and get out there. Your heart — and your mind— will enjoy a good brisk walk in the outdoors.

The study was carried out by a team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and published in American Heart Association’s journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

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