Brisk Walk Same As Running For Heart Health

By  //  April 10, 2013

Distance, Energy Expended Are Key

Peer reviewed research has again clearly confirmed the benefit of exercise, such as running or walking, as a deterrent to the development of high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. However, the study, recently published in the medical journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, also has some good news for those of you who prefer walking over running, concluding that, to maintain cardiovascular health, brisk walking may be just as effective as running.   

Running is high intensity exercise, but, brisk walking may be just as effective at decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

For the study, Paul Williams, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, and Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist at Hartford Hospital examined data on more than 33,000 runners from the National Runners’ Health Study and almost 16,000 walkers from the National Walkers’ Health Study. The individuals ranged from ages 18 to 80, with most being in their 40s or 50s.

The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) classifies running as a “vigorous” exercise, so-called because runners usually end up sweaty and short of breath, and burn about eight times more energy than they would sitting on the couch. The “moderate” level of exercise expended with walking involves 3.8 times more energy than sitting. However, according to Williams and Thompson, it’s not necessarily the intensity, but amount, of expended energy that is key.

The study found that, compared to individuals who did not run or walk for exercise:
  • Hypertension risk fell by 4.2 percent in runners and 7.2 percent in walkers;
  • High cholesterol risk fell by 4.3 percent for runners and 7 percent for walkers;
  • Diabetes risk fell by 12.1 percent for runners and 12.3 percent for walkers; and
  • Heart disease risk fell by 4.5 percent in runners and 9.3 percent in walkers.

Benefit Directly Proportional To Distance And Expended Energy

Overall, the distance traveled mattered more than the time spent walking or running when it came to heart health. “It’s a matter of how far you walk or run, not how long,” Williams told “Both of these activities reduce risk factors, and if you expend the same amount of energy you get the same benefit. The key was the more people walked or ran each week, the more their health improved.”

Similar benefits were seen for similar energy expenditures with exercise regardless of intensity. Walking just takes longer to cover the same distance and expend the same amount of energy as running.

It should be noted that the type of walking studied by Williams and Thompson was not a “mosey along” proposition, but a consistent brisk “exercise” walk.  Also, other research using data from the Walkers’ and Runners’ studies found that for weight loss, running beats walking.

Gregg Fonarow, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association and professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, said the findings “suggest similar benefit for similar energy expenditures with exercise regardless of intensity.”  The obvious drawback related to walking is that it takes longer to cover the same distance and expend the same energy as running.

No Excuses, If You Can’t Run, Get Out And Walk

Regular exercise is highly recommended by the American Heart Association and other organizations for the primary and secondary prevention of heart disease and stroke. The research reported here extended over six years, and showed both running and walking led to similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, and heart disease.

This study’s conclusion is especially heartening for those of us who, for any number of reasons such as hip and knee joint problems or back conditions, have been advised not to run, but are cleared medically to walk.