Good news for those who worry they must do strenuous exercise in order to keep their hearts healthy (especially in the high-temperature days we’ve been experiencing this summer): Walking has the equivalent health benefits of running, as long as the walker burns the equivalent amount of calories, says a new study published by the American Heart Association.
Calories are king, summed up Dr. Paul Thompson, coauthor of the study and chief of cardiology at Hartford Hospital.
Researchers recruited participants in the National Runners and Walkers Health Study, and monitored the health of 33,060 runners and 15,945 walkers. These included women and men, ages ranging from 18 to 80. Researchers followed them for 6.2 years.
Researchers found significantly reduced risk for first-time instances of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and coronary heart disease for both the walkers and runners, who followed the minimum exercise guidelines prescribed by the AHA and the American College of Sports Medicine. These guidelines are at least 30 minutes, five days a week of moderate aerobic activity (walking); or, at least 25 minutes, three days a week of vigorous aerobic activity (running).
Researchers also found when walkers and runners exceeded the recommended amounts of exercise, their heart health benefits increased.
More specifically, researchers found the following:
• High blood pressure: Runners reduced their risk by 4.2 percent; walkers reduced their risk by 7.2 percent.
• High cholesterol: Runners reduced their risk by 4.3 percent; walkers reduced their risk by 7 percent.
• Type 2 diabetes: Runners reduced their risk by 12.1 percent; walkers reduced their risk by 12.3 percent.
• Coronary heart disease: Runners reduced their risk by 4.5 percent; walkers by 9.3 percent.
Dr. Emile Mohler, director of vascular medicine and professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an interview that a limitation of the study is that it’s not a randomized trial.
Instead, the participants were already committed to a particular exercise, and this could have affected the data.
Despite this caveat, Mohler said, “The nice thing to come out of this paper is that if you do brisk walking, you get a really good benefit compared to people who are doing jogging or running.”
Dr. Bruce Kornberg, cardiologist at Lankenau Heart Group, added that the study underlines the notion that there is a viable alternative for non-athletes. Everyone knows how to walk.
Although these individuals may need to pick up their pace. Kornberg said for a brisk exercise, walkers should develop beads of perspiration, but then again, they shouldn’t be breathless and “shvitzing like crazy.”
Beginners should work gradually toward walking one mile every 15 minutes, he added.
While exercise is important, Kornberg also stressed that diet and exercise go hand in hand. Exercisers won’t reap benefits if they’re “sitting there eating a corned beef special every day.”
Dr. Irving Herling, director of clinical cardiology at Main Line Health, added that while the researchers discussed how it takes runners half the time to exercise, “what they don’t talk about is the impact of running on people’s joints and hips and knees, which impacts, I think, on their long-term ability to keep that up.”
Another natural to talk about this is Dr. Steven Raikin, director of foot and ankle service at the Rothman Institute, professor of orthopedic surgery at Jefferson Medical College, and foot doctor to the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers. Raikin said both running and walking stave off osteoporosis and bone loss. However, he added, “the stress on everything is greater with running.”
Raikin said a minority of people run and don’t have problems because their feet are normally structured; plus, they don’t have arthritis, tendinitis or knee misalignment. For the majority of people who have at least one of these problems, they can still run, but they need to take precautions.
Raikin said specialty running stores sell shoes for flat or high arched feet, and doctors can make orthotic inserts for patients. Raikin noted, “If you have the appropriate running shoe and the appropriate insert in your running shoe, those things can be protective for people with suboptimal mechanisms.”
Can a running shoe be used as a walking shoe? Raikin stressed that walkers need to wear walking shoes. Good walking shoes have thicker soles, cushioned heels and elevated toes.
Just like “you’re not going to go out and play baseball with a tennis racquet,” he said, “you shouldn’t go out walking for exercise with a running shoe, and vice versa.”