Hate to run but love to walk?

Then rejoice in this study accepted in February by the American Heart Association’s Journal of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, which concluded, “Equivalent energy expenditures by moderate walking and vigorous running exercise produced similar risk reductions for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and possibly CHD.”

In other words, at least according to the study, walking was just as effective as running in relieving stress, high cholesterol and heart disease and diabetes.

But beyond the parallel benefits, is walking actually better than running in some ways?

Yes. Here’s how:

1. Running can stress the immune system: Walking, unlike running, especially long distance running, does not seem to tax your immune system. Long-distance runners are more susceptible to developing infections, Dr. Uwe Schutz, from University Hospital of Ulm, Germany, told Reuters Health. Training for, or doing a marathon not only burns fat but also muscle tissue as well. This places undue burdens on the body’s immune system.

2. Running can damage your heart: In the journal, Circulation, researchers performed echocardiographic measurements of cardiac function in 60 recreational runners before and 20 minutes after the 2004 and 2005 Boston Marathon. What they found was that prior to the race, none of the runners had elevated serum markers for cardiac stress. After the race, 36 runners, or 60 percent, had elevated markers of a certain triplet of proteins called troponin. Troponin is a major component of cardiac muscle but elevated levels of subtypes of these proteins can lead to cardiovascular damage.

If that’s not enough to discourage a long-distance run, consider that the researchers also discovered that 24 runners (40%) developed signs of myocardial necrosis, irreversible damage to heart muscle cells. The researchers also discovered at least 10 studies from 2004 to 2006 alone that documented increases in myocardial damage; there is no evidence that brisk walking can destroy heart muscle or cells.

3. Running may cause osteoarthritis: The study of risk versus reward when it comes to exercise is ongoing. In terms of the effects of exercising on our knees, hips and other joints, the verdict is still undecided. It seems that at a certain “dose,” as researchers in a study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, put it, running does not cause osteoarthritis, but after a certain point, reduced risk of disease is offset by an increased risk of injury and osteoarthritis. If you’ve been running for a long time and have had injuries--and most runners have--then you’re more likely to “to deplete the joint of the lubricating glycoproteins, disrupt the collagen network, slowly wear away the cartilage, and cause numerous microfractures in the underlying bones.”

4. Running can also damage cartilage:  Although authors of a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine state that there is continuing controversy as to whether long-distance running results in irreversible articular cartilage damage, this specific study concluded that through the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), biochemical changes in articular cartilage, remained elevated after three months of reduced activity. The patellofemoral joint and medial compartment of the knee showed the greatest wear and tear, suggesting higher risk for  degeneration.

5. Running in hot weather can lead to heat stroke: With summer approaching, runners need to be careful not to overdo it. Running in hot weather can lead to multi-organ dysfunction. Although walking in hot weather can also lead to heat stroke, there is probably less chance of developing organ failure when walking versus running.

Although the benefits of walking are numerous, keep in mind that it’s the  minimum someone should do if they want to get in shape; shorter bursts of moderate intensity exercise is probably the most beneficial way to get fit.  

Copyright Judd Handler, 2013

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