Some runners scoff at walking as a form of exercise, but that condescension is misplaced. One study published earlier this year showed that, if you cover the same number of kilometres per week, running and walking are equally effective in combating hypertension and depression. Another study reached the same conclusion concerning coronary heart disease.
Now the author of that second study, Paul Williams, Ph.D., has published research focused solely on walkers, and has added this caveat: Intensity seems to matter when walking for exercise, with faster walkers having better long-term health outcomes.
Writing in the online journal PLoS One, Williams reports on the relationship between self-reported walking pace and incidence of disease and death in almost 39,000 recreational walkers. During the 9.4-year study period, each additional minute per mile (00:38 per km) in walking pace was associated with a 1.8% increase in mortality, and similar increased incidence of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and dementia. This was true even among the walkers who met current federal guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity.
Williams acknowledges it may be the case that healthier people are able to walk faster. Nonetheless, he writes, “these analyses are consistent with the hypothesis that intensity affects walking’s health benefits.”