Photo of feet walking on a path
Walking is one of the best exercises you can take to protect your cardiovascular health

Every step you take – why walking is the best exercise

28 May, 2014

Natural Health News — Walking briskly can lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as much as running can, according to the surprising findings fo a new study.

Californian researchers compared data from 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study.

Study participants were 18 to 80 years old, with an average in range in their 40s and 50s. Men represented 21% of the walkers and 51.4% of the runners.

They found that the same energy used for moderate intensity walking and vigorous intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the studies’ six years.

“Walking and running provide an ideal test of the health benefits of moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running because they involve the same muscle groups and the same activities performed at different intensities,” said Paul T Williams, PhD, the study’s principal author and staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division in Berkeley, California.

Unlike previous studies, the researchers assessed walking and running expenditure by distance, not by time. Participants provided activity data by responding to questionnaires.

“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,” Williams said.

Walking beats running

Comparing energy expenditure to self-reported, physician-diagnosed incident hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes and coronary heart disease, researchers found:

  • Running significantly reduced risk for first-time hypertension 4.2% and walking reduced risk 7.2%.
  • Running reduced first-time high cholesterol 4.3% and walking 7%.
  • Running reduced first-time diabetes 12.1% compared to 12.3% for walking.
  • Running reduced coronary heart disease 4.5% compared to 9.3% for walking.

Thus, in nearly all measurements for health protection, the walkers beat the runners.

“Walking may be a more sustainable activity for some people when compared to running, 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,” Williams said.

“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,” he added.

If you’re just starting out on an exercise regime or have never done much exercise before, walking is a great, low impact way to get into a fitness regimen without risking injury. Walking is, in particular, easier on your hip and knee joints, especially if you are carrying a few extra pounds.