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Walking reduces some risk factors for heart disease in previously inactive adults

Murtagh EM, Nichols L, Mohammed MA, et al. The effect of walking on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised control trials. Prev Med. 2015;72C:34-43.

Review question

In previously inactive adults, does walking reduce risk factors for heart disease?


Physical inactivity increases the risk of many illnesses including heart disease and high blood pressure. Walking is a relatively simple way to increase activity levels, particularly in people who may be sedentary, obese, and at high risk of heart disease. By walking, then, inactive adults may be able to reduce their risk of heart disease.

How the review was done

The researchers did a systematic review based on studies available up to June 2012.

They found 31 randomized controlled trials with 1,487 people (30 to 83 years of age).

Key features of the studies were:

  • people walked 20 to 60 minutes/day, 2 to 7 days/week, for 8 to 52 weeks;
  • walking intensity varied from light to vigorous, and could be self-paced; and
  • walking was compared with no exercise.

What the researchers found

Compared with no exercise, walking reduced:

  • body fat;
  • blood pressure;
  • body mass index (BMI); and
  • body weight.

Compared with no exercise, walking did not affect total cholesterol levels.


In previously inactive adults, walking reduces some risk factors for heart disease.

Walking vs no exercise in inactive people


Number of trials (number of people)

Average difference at follow-up

Body fat

14 (719)

3.5% less with walking

Systolic blood pressure

16 (816)

2.9% lower with walking

Diastolic blood pressure

16 (806)

2.0% lower with walking

Body mass index (BMI)

23 (1,201)

2.0% lower with walking

Body weight

25 (1,275)

1.8% less with walking

Total cholesterol level

16 (758)

No difference with walking



The lower number in a blood pressure reading. It is the pressure when the heart rests between beats.
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Risk factors
Aspects making a condition more likely.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.
The higher number in a blood pressure reading. It is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats.

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