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Walking can be healthier than running

May 9, 2013

Don’t like running? Try walking!

Running is one of the best ways to boost your cardiovascular health. It’s safe, it’s free, and it’s available to anyone with a decent pair of sneakers.

The downside? Not everyone loves running. Some people absolutely hate it — and if that’s you, I’ve got some great news: You can get all the benefits of running and then some without the actual running.

You don’t even have to jog.

All you have to do is pick up the pace a little when you walk.

Run regularly, for example, and your risk of diabetes will plunge by 12.1 percent.

That’s great, of course — but a new study finds that walking that same distance will take you even further, slashing your risk by 12.3 percent.

When it comes to heart disease, walking can actually take you more than twice as far as running — slashing your risk by 9.3 percent, compared to 4.5 percent for running.

A brisk walk can even keep you a step ahead of the other major warning signs of heart disease, lowering the risk of high blood pressure by 7.2 percent and high cholesterol by 7 percent.

Running, on the other hand, will cut those risks by 4.2 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively.

The key is to make sure you walk like you mean it — and that means you can’t just mill around a little and call it a day. You need to walk for distance to get the benefits, according to the study of 33,000 runners and nearly 16,000 walkers published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

That means going as far as a runner does during a typical sweat session — which brings me to the only real downside of all that walking: Time.

Traveling the same distance as a run will take two to three times longer — maybe more, depending on how fast (or slow) you walk. But if you have the time, then be sure to put your feet to the pavement and get moving.

If you don’t, then consider jogging, running, or any other exercise that will get you moving each day — because your health depends on it.

But before I go…

Exercise for body and mind

Your brain is just like the rest of your body: If you want to keep it fit, you need to give it some exercise.

That means getting your body moving, because the blood-pumping benefits of physical activity extend to your brain. And of course, it also means staying sharp with intellectual activity.

If you haven’t been busy with either, one new study shows that you can start with just an hour a day, six days a week.

Devote three of those sessions to a little light activity and three to stimulating your mind, and you could start to see cognitive improvements even if you’ve already felt yourself slip a little.

In the study, 126 inactive seniors who had complained of memory and thinking problems were randomly assigned to just that — three physical and three mental sessions a week, with different levels of difficulty.

For their physical workouts, some were given intense activities such as aerobics, while others got off easy with light stretching and toning exercises. And for their mental workouts, some were challenged with computer exercises designed to stimulate the mind, while others were asked to watch instructional DVDs on arts, science, and history.

In the end, it didn’t really matter who got what — because after 12 weeks, everyone enjoyed improvements in global cognitive function.

Now, I don’t think this is license to take the easy way out and always choose the lightest possible workouts (physical and mental). The seniors in the study had been completely inactive before the research began, so it’s only natural that even a little bit of activity would lead to some improvements.

Once you start, however, it’s important to keep at it. As you improve physically and mentally, you need to make your workouts a little more challenging. Over time, you won’t just look and feel better — as the new study shows, you’ll think better, too.