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07-04-2013 | Metabolism | Article

Health benefits of walking underestimated

Abstract

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medwireNews: US research shows that people can gain the same health benefits by walking as they can by running, as long as they expend the same amount of energy.

Paul Williams (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, California) and Paul Thompson (Hartford Hospital, Connecticut) measured the amount of energy expended by 33,060 runners (mean age 41-48 years) and 15,945 walkers (mean age 53-62 years) enrolled in the National Runners' and Walkers' Health Study by looking at distance and time spent exercising.

"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 explained in a press statement.

The study participants reported physician diagnosed incident hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, Type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease (CHD), over a 6.2 year follow-up period.

For each metabolic equivalent hour performed per day (METh/d) of running (one MET corresponds to energy equivalent of running 1 km) the risks for incident hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, Type 2 diabetes, and CHD over the follow-up period were reduced by 4.2%, 4.3%, 12.1%, and 4.5%, respectively. The corresponding reductions for walking were 7.2%, 7.0%, 12.3%, and 9.3%.

The authors caution that while their results are positive and show that walking can significantly improve health, people need to walk for a significantly greater amount of time to gain the same benefits as those gained through running.

"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," said Williams.

In practice, the runners in the study had 14%, 18%, 41%, and 43% lower risks for incident hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, Type 2 diabetes, and CHD, respectively, compared with the walkers over the follow-up period. However, this could be explained by the fact that the mean METh/d was twice as high for runners compared with walkers, write the researchers in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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