Slow and Steady Beats Heart Problems

Cardiovascular and heart related risks decreased more by walking than running

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) There's little competition between walking and running when it comes to lowering the risk for major heart conditions: walking wins.

Results from a recent study showed that walking cut the risks for first-time hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes as well as – if not better than – running.

Though the intensity of the two activities differs, energy expended by walking can cut the risk for serious cardiovascular conditions equally to energy spent while running, according to researchers.

"Walk or run for better heart health."

Paul Williams, PhD, from the Life Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Paul Thompson, MD, cardiologist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, conducted the study involving more than 33,000 adult runners and almost 16,000 adult walkers, most of whom were white.

They aimed to see what kind and what intensity of exercise most impacted the risk for heart disease over a six-year period. Independent of exercise, runners initially had lower hypertension, cholesterol levels and diabetes than walkers.

Participants were primarily in their 40s and 50s. Men made up more than half the runners and about 21 percent of walkers.

The researchers measured how much energy participants used each day and compared it to the number reported by participants and their doctors.

While running significantly reduced the risk for incident hypertension by 4.2 percent, researchers found that walking decreased the risk for hypertension by 7.2 percent.

At the same time, running decreased high cholesterol and heart disease risk by 4.3 and 4.5 percent, respectively, while walking cut the risk by 7 and 9.3 percent, respectively.

Walking decreased diabetes risk by 12.3 percent whereas running decreased the risk by 12.1 percent.

The reductions in risk for diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol levels were not significantly different for running than they were for walking, according to the researchers.

For both walkers and runners, moving at a faster pace was linked with lower risks of high cholesterol levels, hypertension and diabetes. However, the amount of expended energy was not linked with exercise intensity.

"These results should be used to encourage physical activity in general, regardless of its intensity," researchers wrote in their report.

"However, those who choose running achieved more than twice the exercise doses as those who choose walking, and given the strong dose-response relationship, higher exercise doses and lower risk factors, promoting more vigorous exercise, are likely to produce greater health benefits," they wrote.

The authors noted that the study participants represented only a portion of the populations included in the original National Runners' Health Study II and the National Walkers' Health Study.

However, these researchers said that the links between exercise and the different conditions are unlikely to be different in other populations.

The study, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, was published online April 4 in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 7, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013