Walking is the most ordinary thing a human can do. Unless we have a physical impairment, we take this activity completely for granted. A French study suggests we should start paying more attention to the benefits of walking, especially as we age.
The Benefits of Walking
The impact of the simple act of walking in adults over 65 had a remarkable effect: over the course of the 12-year study, regular walking of just 15 minutes a day reduced the rate of mortality by 22%. The rate was even higher with longer and more frequent activity levels.
As the lead researcher stated: “Age is not an excuse to do no exercise. It is well established that regular physical activity has a better overall effect on health than any medical treatment. But less than half of older adults achieve the recommended minimum of 150 minutes moderate intensity or 75 minutes vigorous intensity exercise each week.” (1)
This finding should come as no surprise.
Because it is so basic to us, the act of walking has been extensively studied for its effects on various aspects of the human condition. Some people don’t see walking as an aerobic exercise and so ignore its benefits. The definition of “aerobic” exercise is that which stimulates heart and respiratory rates to pump additional oxygen to muscles. Even a slow stroll does that. The faster you walk, the more aerobic the activity.
Increased cardiovascular, respiratory, and circulatory operations mean nutrients go where they must to support the exercise. Energy is used rather than stored and your organs, muscles, and bones are strengthened. Our bodies are meant for movement.
Without doubt, a sedentary lifestyle that omits adequate exercise leads to illness. Routinely low levels of physical activity have given rise to what is called “sedentary death syndrome”. This is a very real condition that has been deemed “a major public health burden due to its causing multiple chronic diseases and millions of premature deaths each year.” (2)
If you don’t use it, you lose it; this goes for everything from muscle strength to cognition.
For All Walks of Life
A 2016 study found that increasing the amount of walking for obese children to 45 minutes a day, 5 days a week increased their lung capacity in just 6 weeks. (3) Additionally, interval training isn’t only for high-impact aerobic exercise. Employing fast walking interspersed with a slow walk improves your fitness level more effectively than walking at a continual pace.
Walking outdoors has a particularly supportive effect on mental health. Natural surroundings (away from electronics and other distractions) improve mood, decrease stress, and lower feelings of depression. (4)
Sunshine nourishes us with essential vitamin D, the deficiency of which is becoming almost epidemic in the industrial world. Walking indoors is almost as good; a study at Stanford University found that walking on a treadmill facing a blank wall resulted in almost as many creative responses as being outside. Whether in or out, walking significantly beat sitting in measures of mental activity. (5)
Like a Walk in the Park
When something hurts, we don’t want to touch it. The paradox is that regular walking improves mobility and reduces the risk of injury. Any weight-bearing exercise—including walking—strengthens bones and connective tissue, increasing blood and nutrient supplies. The Arthritis Foundation recommends walking for these reasons and more. “If you don’t walk, joints are deprived of life-giving fluid, which can speed deterioration.” (6)
The American Heart Association advocates walking to lower risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke, and diabetes. It recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity a day to total at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week to realize the protective effects of exercise. The exercise (walking the most basic) doesn’t have to be all at once: two 15-minute walks are just as good as one 30-minute walk. You can start slowly and work up your pace and endurance. (7)
And that’s not all the benefits of walking: trouble sleeping? Take a walk.
The Sleep Foundation reviewed a study that found: “…a bout of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g., walking) reduced the time it took to fall asleep and increased the length of sleep of people with chronic insomnia compared to a night in which they did not exercise.” (8)
That’s a very impressive result after only one walk.
A meta-analysis of walking studies from 7 countries with average duration of 11 years found that regular walking decreased the incidence of cardiovascular events by 31% and decreased mortality risk by 32%. Walking as little as 5.5 miles a week at 2mph will protect you from most serious diseases. (9)
Not everyone can work out at a gym or run up 10 flights of stairs but most of us can walk.With all the benefits of walking mentioned above, it’s worth taking a little daily stroll. All you need to do it is a decent pair of shoes and 15 minutes a day. Who can’t make time for that?