Brisk walking can reduce a person’s risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol just as much as running can.

The finding came from a new study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology which examined 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study.

During the six-year study period, the investigators discovered that the same energy used for moderate intensity walking and vigorous intensity running lead to comparable reductions in the likelihood for diabetes, high blood pressure, and potentially coronary heart disease.

Paul T. Williams, Ph.D., leading author and staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division in Berkeley, Calif., said:

“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.”

Walking and running expenditure was evaluated by distance, unlike previous research, which used time. The volunteers were given questionnaires in order to provide their activity data.

“The more the runners ran and the walkers walked, the better off they were regarding health benefits. If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable,” Williams explained.

The experts compared energy expenditure to self-reported, doctor-diagnosed incident hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, and coronary heart disease.

Results showed:

  • The risk for first-time hypertension was notably reduced 4.2% by running and 7.2% by walking.
  • The risk for first-time high cholesterol was reduced 4.3% by running and 7% by walking.
  • The risk for first-time diabetes was lowered 12.1% by running and 12.3% by walking.
  • The risk for coronary heart disease was lowered 4.5% by running and 9.3% by walking.

Williams revealed:

“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.”

Subjects were between 18 and 80 years old, the majority were in their 40s and 50s. Twenty-one percent of the walkers and 51.4% of the runners were male.

A study from 2012 indicated that regular exercise in middle age protects the heart.

“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,” Williams said.

A report from earlier this year found that the best way to save energy and maintain endurance is to alternate between walking and running.

Written by Sarah Glynn