Walking reduces blood pressure, total cholesterol, risk for cardiovascular disease, and risk for diabetes

By Harley Pasternak
Updated December 08, 2020 10:58 AM
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Credit: Courtesy Harley Pasternak

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

We’ve all heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. In a fairy tale race, the hare sprints to the lead, but eventually tires and loses to an extremely slow, but persistent tortoise. Often, I think of this when clients ask me if it’s better to walk or run to lose weight. Some recent research sheds some useful insight on the topic.

When it comes to jogging, the world s most common form of strenuous exercise, a new study concludes that people who jog regularly, but slowly, tend to live longer than those who push themselves to the max.

The research, which was published in February in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, was part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study. The authors of the jogging study reviewed data on nearly 1,100 joggers and 4,000 non-joggers. The men and women were of various ages; all were apparently healthy and not overweight. The non-joggers did not regularly engage in any strenuous exercise. More than a decade later, the authors analyzed data on deaths among these subjects.

And the Winners Are
Using information originally provided by the joggers on how often they ran, how far and at what speeds, the researchers divided them into three categories: light, moderate and strenuous joggers. What did the researchers find when they compared death data to the original? Not surprisingly, overall, joggers tended to live longer than non-joggers, but then it gets interesting. The light joggers had the lowest rate of mortality, followed by the moderate joggers.

How about the strenuous joggers and the non-joggers? Surprise! They tied for third place. There was no advantage for those who jogged faster, longer distances, and more frequently over non-joggers. Statistically, their life expectancy rate was comparable to that of the sedentary subjects. The optimal frequency for jogging appeared to be two to three times a week; the optimal speed, slow; and the optimal weekly distance, 1 to 2.4 miles.

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The First 20 Minutes

Are the findings of this study really a surprise? When it comes to maximizing lifespan, the greatest benefit of exercise occurs in the first 20 minutes. The current Centers for Disease Control guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week, in concert with resistance exercises that strengthen muscles two or three times a week. Stick with this guideline and you’ll cut your risk of premature death from any cause by almost 20 percent!

But according to a 2011 review study that involved more than 10,000 participants, subjects who exercised three times as much each week had only a slight additional decrease in mortality risk: 4 percent.

Of course, any extra time on Earth is desirable, but the point is that the initial effort brings the largest reward. The Danish study didn’t duplicate the findings of the earlier study, but they do seem complementary.

Another point to consider: Only 80 of the almost 1,100 joggers in the Danish study actually fit the profile of vigorous joggers. The authors were the first to acknowledge that the sample size was small.

Walk, Don’t Run
Do you have to jog – albeit slowly, just a few times a week, and not too far – to reach your nineties? Not necessarily. Walking is a great low-impact alternative.

Jogging and running do burn more calories than walking for the same length of time, but is there a long-term advantage? One study that compared data on 33,000 runners and almost 16,000 walkers to ascertain the respective health benefits found that walking had a slight edge. After six years, participants in both groups had reduced their blood pressure, total cholesterol, risk for cardiovascular disease, and risk for diabetes. But the walkers’ improvements were better in the first three categories, and the diabetes risk reduction was the same for both groups.

My suggestion? Arm yourself with a Fitbit and aim for at least 10,000 steps a day. If you’re ready to give yourself a little challenge, take a walk and mix in short bouts of jogging. It can boost your calorie burn and give you much needed cardiovascular benefits.

Whatever you decide, I’ll leave you with this thought: Tortoises live longer than hares!