Brisk walking is as good as running for reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes risk – three key players in the development of heart disease, a new study finds.

It’s a matter of how far you walk or run, not how long, said Paul Williams, a researcher in the study.

“Both of these activities reduce risk factors, and if you expend the same amount of energy you get the same benefit,” Williams said. The key was the more people walked or ran each week, the more their health improved, he said.

The findings suggest “there is now some choice in the exercise you want to do,” he said. Some people find running more convenient, others prefer walking, especially people just starting to exercise, he noted.

The advantage of running is you can cover twice as much ground in the same amount of time as you would walking, Williams pointed out.

Williams is referring to brisk walking, however. “Walking for exercise. It’s not a mosey kind of thing, but actually walking for exercise,” he explained.

For the study, published online in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, the research team collected data from the National Runners’ Health Study and the National Walkers’ Health Study. More than 33,000 runners and nearly 16,000 walkers were involved.

The runners and walkers were 18 to 80 years old, but mostly in their 40s and 50s, the study authors noted.

Over six years, both running and walking led to similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, and perhaps even heart disease, the researchers found.

Specifically, the study authors found:

  • Running reduced the risk of high blood pressure 4.2 percent and walking reduced the risk 7.2 percent.
  • Running reduced the risk for high cholesterol 4.3 percent and walking lowered the risk 7 percent.
  • Running lowered the risk for diabetes 12.1 percent and walking reduced the risk 12.3 percent.
  • Running decreased the risk of heart disease 4.5 percent and walking reduced the risk 9.3 percent.

Engaging in regular physical activity is well-established to maintain cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, stroke, and premature death.

The American Heart Association and other organizations highly recommend regular physical activity for the primary and secondary prevention of heart disease and stroke.

Other research using data from the walkers’ and runners’ studies found that for weight loss, running beats walking. That study appeared in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

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