Not all steps are equal

Marika Sboros

IS walking as good for you as running? Die-hard fans of one would like you to think their exercise drug of choice is better than the other.

A new study by US scientists purports to show that both walking and running give you the same health benefits: reduced risk of high blood pressure‚ diabetes and heart disease. Actually‚ the study doesn’t show that at all‚ though that doesn’t mean walking isn’t as good for you as running.

It’s just that there are some terminal weaknesses in the study by researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s life sciences division in California and Hartford Hospital’s division of cardiology in Connecticut.

The study was published online in Arteriosclerosis‚ Thrombosis‚ and Vascular Biology‚ a journal of the American Heart Association.

Its weaknesses sabotage the researchers’ claim that walking and running are indeed equal in terms of health benefits.

The study set out to test “whether the equivalent energy expenditure by moderate-intensity (such as walking) and vigorous-intensity exercise (such as running) provides equivalent health benefits” in 33060 runners and 15945 walkers.

The researchers conclude that “equivalent energy expenditures by moderate (walking) and vigorous (running) exercise produced similar risk reductions for hypertension‚ hypercholesterolemia‚ diabetes mellitus‚ and possibly CHD (coronary heart disease)”.

So far‚ so good‚ except that British specialist Dr John Briffa‚ an orthodox medical doctor who is also a specialist in natural medicine‚ points out on his blog (www.drbriffa.com) some structural defects that rock the foundations of the study’s claims and conclusion.

Take the title‚ for starters: Walking Versus Running for Hypertension‚ Cholesterol and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction.

Dr Briffa says it “hints that it tested the effects of running and walking to see what effect they had”.

Then there are the authors’ conclusions – written as though they had tested the effects of running and walking on 49005 runners and walkers. What the researchers actually did‚ Dr Briffa says‚ was simply assess the relationship between running and walking habits and health-related outcomes.

Thus‚ this is an epidemiological study‚ from which the researchers could only glean associations between things‚ not the impact one thing (in this instance‚ exercise) might be actually having on another (in this case‚ health)‚ he says.

For this reason‚ Briffa says the phrasing and reporting of the study’s conclusions are “potentially misleading”. But don’t mistake his stance for walking-bashing.

Briffa says he is a “a huge advocate of walking”‚ and also a former avid runner who ran 65km to 80km a week. He retired from running‚ he says‚ only after suffering from a long-running (no pun intended) sequence of injuries that affected a variety of his joints and muscles.

After a reluctant two-year hiatus‚ he found his feet again with walking and has “never looked back”.

One of the many reasons he now advocates walking is “its sustainability”‚ he says. It is something he can see himself doing when he is 80 and beyond.

He can’t really say that about running‚ he says‚ “especially bearing in mind just how much the pounding appeared to cause my body to break down”. – BDlive

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