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Walking versus running: Which one is best for heart health?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Running or walking? Which is best for a healthy heart?

If you want to keep your cholesterol, blood pressure and chances of developing diabetes lower, consider starting a walking program. Researchers now say the benefits for heart health from walking briskly are the same as running – and that’s good news, especially for anyone just starting an exercise program.

Paul Williams, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California where the study was conducted said in a new release it’s about how much energy you expend, regardless of whether you walk or run for exercise.

For their study, researchers compared cholesterol levels, blood pressure and diabetes and heart risks among 33,000 runners and nearly 16,000 walkers.

Over a period of six-years:

  • Brisk walking lowered blood pressure by 7.2 percent compared to 4.2 percent for runners.
  • Cholesterol levels were reduced by 7 percent compared to 4.3 percent for runners
  • Running cut risks for diabetes 12.1 percent. For walkers the risk of developing the disease was 12.3 percent lower.
  • Running decreased the risk of heart disease 4.5 percent, but walking reduced heart disease risks by 9.3 percent

To get heart healthy benefits from either walking or running, Williams explains distance is the key. Running might be a more efficient way to lower your heart risks because you can cover more ground in a shorter period of time.

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If you prefer to walk, make it brisk. “It's not a mosey kind of thing, but actually walking for exercise," Williams explained.

For the study finding, published online April 4 in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, Williams and Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, analyzed data from the National Runners' Health Study and the National Walkers' Health Study.
Williams said the more people ran or walked each week, the more their health improved.

Williams said the more people ran or walked each week, the more their health improved. The message is to go the distance and expend some energy, regardless of whether you put on your walking or your running shoes to improve cardiovascular health.

You can also try a combination of walking and running for heart health. Past studies have shown benefits for health from high intensity interval training known as HIT. Running or HIT may be best if your goal is weight loss. Walking and running may be equal for a healthy heart. Which do you prefer?

Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology
Williams PT, Thompson PD "Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk reduction" Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2013;
DOI: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.112.300878.

Image credit: Morguefile