Studies show walking can be better than running

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COLUMBIA - A recent study published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows people who walk as a form of exercise reduce the risk of of high blood pressure and high cholesterol by about twice as much as runners.

"Walking is kind of a natural thing that we do, and if we can find ways to build it into our day we can get significant health benefits from it," Dr. Steve Ball, MU associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology and state specialist with MU Extension, said.

Ball said walking can be more beneficial in many cases because running and more strenuous forms of exercise often put too much strain on a person's body, while walking can be more natural.

However, Missourians aren't getting as much exercise as many other states in the country. According to a study by the Alliance for Biking and Walking, Missouri ranks 30th in percentage of people getting the recommended amount of physical activity and 39th in the percentage of people who walk to work.

"Everything is set up for us to be inactive, and so we have these sedentary jobs, we have elevators, we have automobiles, " Ball said. "And so, we've become more sedentary over time."

One Columbia resident, Grace Atkins, said she often will stay and walk downtown after work.

"I sit at a desk most of the time for my job, so it's really nice to be able to, for a lunch break or just even after work, stick around and walk around," Atkins said.

Ball said even small amounts of exercise can have a big impact, and he even has a treadmill at his desk to walk on during the day while at work.

"We've often thought that it takes planned exercise programs to benefit health," Ball said. "It really doesn't. If you can build activity into your day, you can get significant health benefits, your blood pressure improves, your resting heart rate goes down, your cholesterol improves, you become more insulin sensitive. Just walking can give you lots of those things."

Atkins said she tries to work small forms of exercise into her day when possible.

"When I'm sitting all day, and I actually take the time to walk around during my breaks, I notice I'm more productive during the time that I'm working if I take those breaks, and I walk around. I clear my head, get some fresh air and get the blood pumping," Atkins said. "I think it makes a big difference for me.

Despite the relatively lower number of people in Missouri walking during their commute and getting the amount of exercise recommended, Missouri spends the 12th largest on bicycle and pedestrian projects in the country including things like trails and parks. 

But Ball said the government can only do so much to promote people to live a healthy lifestyle.

"When I go talk to fifth graders in a school, they know that exercise is good for them. Missourians know that exercise is good for them," Ball said. "Anything that we can do to help people be more active like having more trails, having more parks, making it more convenient and easier for folks to access facilities, I'm all for. But part of it also comes down to the responsibility of the person."

Another Columbia resident, Kurt DeBord, said he tries to make use of the trails and parks for walking and cycling at least every other day.

"The older you get, you need the exercise in order to maintain your weight and just overall health," DeBord said. "My blood pressure is high, so it's a good way to keep that in check."

In 2013, a nonprofit organization, American Trails, voted Missouri the "Best Trails State" in the country. 

For a list of trails and parks in Columbia, click here.