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Fitness Made Simple: Just Walk
Spring is here…so it’s time for a brisk outdoor perambulation. An hour a day can do wonders. 05/03/2021 by Temma Ehrenfeld

Many of us have taken walking for granted since we took our baby steps as toddlers. It seems more mundane than many forms of exercise: After all, walking requires no equipment or cash to spend on a gym.

But if you can fit walking into your routine, you’ll be happier and healthier. Especially if you don’t do other exercise, aim to walk an hour a day.

Here’s why.

Walking could help you maintain a healthful weight

It may seem pointless to struggle with your weight when obesity runs in the family. Don’t despair, walk. When Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in more than 12,000 people, they calculated that volunteers who walked briskly for about an hour a day cut the impact of those genes in half (Harvard Health, 2020).

An hour a day was also a key figure in results from the National Weight Loss Registry, which tracks more than 10,000 people who have maintained at least a 30 pound weight loss for a year or longer. On average, they’ve lost 66 pounds and kept it off for 5.5 years. A huge 90 percent exercise, on average, about an hour a day, and the most common exercise among them is walking (National Weight Control Registry, 2021).

Your walks might help you lose belly fat, also called visceral fat, generally regarded as the most dangerous kind because it is associated with type 2 diabetes and elevated inflammation. Women who walk less than 7,500 steps a day have more belly fat, according to one study (Kajioka et al.,2000). In another study of volunteers on a 12-week diet, people who also walked for an hour five times a week lost 1.5 inches more from their waistlines and 1.3 percent more body fat than people who only dieted (Bond et al., 2002).

You may have heard that brisk walks after meals would help lower your blood sugar or blood pressure. But that doesn’t seem to be panning out in more recent research, at least for people with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that includes a big waistline (Diekmann et al., 2019).

However, if you overeat to boost your mood or relieve stress, walking could be an effective substitute. For example, if you’re under stress at work and dreaming of chocolate, go for a 15-minute walk. A pair of studies from the University of Exeter concluded that you’ll eat half the amount of chocolate if you walk first (Oh et al., 2012; Harvard, 2020).

It lowers your cancer risk

Walking has been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, the American Cancer Society reports (American Cancer Society, 2017).

Any physical activity lowers your risk of breast cancer. But one study found that even women who were overweight or took hormones cut their risk if they walked seven or more hours a week, in other words, at least an hour a day (Harvard Health, 2020).

It’s an all-over workout

You’ll exercise your calves, hips, and buttocks. Pump your arms, too. A firm core will help you build your pace. To maximize your benefits, wear a heartrate monitor or pedometer and track how long and quickly you walk. Then slowly build up. Finding a faster walking partner is one way to keep your groove on.

Woman hiking through forest with autumn nature background
Using a treadmill is better than not walking, but an ideal walk for training body and mind involves uneven surfaces and changes in elevation.

Try the beach, grass, or hiking trails. Any uneven surface is more challenging than flat concrete. That’s why athletes like to train on the sand, to get the most from their time. You’ll improve your balance, body awareness and muscle strength. Exercising in nature is also especially good for your mental state.

It helps to have good walking shoes, not flimsy sandals or basketball or tennis sneakers (Hardesty, 2021).

Even slow, unsteady, and meandering walks on an uneven natural surface may be better for the elderly than a treadmill or sidewalk (Sisson, 2014).

It eases pain

Walking boosts brain chemicals that tame pain, including pain from arthritis. Your knees and hips are most vulnerable to arthritis, which can make you stop in your tracks - but don’t. Walking will help. Walking five to six miles a week could actually keep arthritis at bay. While you walk, you’re strengthening the knee and hip joints, lubricating them and boosting the surrounding muscles (Harvard Health, 2020.)

It improves mood

If you’ve been depressed and it runs in your family, you may feel doomed. Exercise may be the remedy. A 2019 study with nearly 8,000 participants found that just three hours of exercise a week, no matter the type of activity, cut the risk of depression by about the same degree as the genes increased it (Choi et al., 2019).

It boosts immunity

In the flu season, an hour a day outdoors may seem too much. But walking as much as you can is still a good idea: One study of more than a 1,000 people concluded that walking at least 20 minutes a day, at least five days a week, cut sick days by 43 percent, compared to people who were sedentary. The walkers’ illnesses were shorter and symptoms milder, as well (Harvard Health, 2020).

With all these benefits, it’s less surprising that walking is a life-extender

Happy senior couple hiking with trekking sticks and backpacks
Regular walking is a potent driver of longevity. Use of walking poles can help the elderly or those with balance issues stay active on the trail.

In a study of nearly 140,000 older Americans, half said that walking was their only physical activity. But even people who walked for less than 2 hours a week were less likely to die during the 13-year study than those who didn’t exercise.

If you walked enough to meet the guidelines (at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise) you cut your mortality risk by 20 percent (Patel et al., 2018).

In fact, your pace is a measure of your overall health

Walking frequently may help you establish a strong pace, boosting your overall health. Seniors who could walk faster than 1.8 miles an hour landed in the top half of the life-expectancy chart in a different study, and had “exceptional life expectancy” if they could walk 2.7 miles in an hour (Studenski, 2011). After a heart attack, doctors may ask you to walk for six minutes. Your speed is a standard measure of your chances of survival over the next year (Rovere et al., 2015).

Be a genius—walk

Walking might help you leave a legacy at the end of your long life. Walking and creative work go together. Ludwig Van Beethoven liked to work from dawn until a large midday meal, though he’d take breaks to “run out into the open.” After eating, he would walk more vigorously the entire afternoon, no matter the weather, carrying his pen and music paper. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard had a similar routine, walking the streets of Copenhagen as he worked out his ideas.

Charles Dickens would write from 9 o’clock in the morning to 2 o’clock in the afternoon, then cover 30 miles on foot. At night, he might walk off insomnia on the streets of London (Sisson, 2014).

If you’re always busy, you may need walking more than the rest of us. You have big dreams and immediate goals. That’s a reason, paradoxically, to park a 20 minute-walk away from office. You might arrive with a new idea that will get the job done.

Keep in mind that walking can be social. Turn a lunchtime meeting into a walk, and you might clinch a deal. Take a date walking and you may find out more quickly if you’re a go.

Still unmotivated? Millions of reluctant walkers have solved the problem by acquiring a dog. A morning and afternoon walk are good for the creatures on both ends of the leash – and both soon learn to look forward to the excursion.

Walk—it’s never a waste of time.

 

Sources:

  • American Cancer Society. Study: Even a Little Walking May Help You Live Longer. https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-even-a-little-walking-may-help-you-live-longer.html. Published October 19, 2017.
  • Bond Brill J, Perry AC, Parker L, Robinson A, Burnett K. Dose-response effect of walking exercise on weight loss. How much is enough? Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12439651/ Published November, 2002.
  • Choi, K., Zheutlin, A., Karlson, R., Wang, M., Dunn, E., Stein, M., . . . Smoller, J. Physical activity offsets genetic risk for incident depression assessed via electronic health records in a biobank cohort study. Depression and Anxiety. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/da.22967 Published November, 2019.
  • Diekmann C, Huber H, Preuß M, et al. Moderate Postmeal Walking Has No Beneficial Effects Over Resting on Postprandial Lipemia, Glycemia, Insulinemia, and Selected Oxidative and Inflammatory Parameters in Older Adults with a Cardiovascular Disease Risk Phenotype: A Randomized Crossover Trial. J Nutr. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31318033/ Published November, 2019.
  • Hardesty P. Walk Faster, Live Longer. Sharecare. https://www.sharecare.com/health/benefits-of-walking/article/walk-faster-live-longer.
  • Harvard Health 5 surprising benefits of walking. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/5-surprising-benefits-of-walking. Published October 13, 2020.
  • Kajioka T, Shimokata H, Sato Y. The effect of daily walking on body fat distribution. Environmental health and preventive medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21432190/. Published October 2000.
  • National Weight Control Registry. Research Findings. http://www.nwcr.ws/default.htm Accessed April 2, 2021.
  • Oh H, Taylor AH. Brisk walking reduces ad libitum snacking in regular chocolate eaters during a workplace simulation. Appetite. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22100187/ Epub Nov 10, 2011.
  • Patel AV, Hildebrand JS, Leach CR, Campbell PT, Doyle C, Shuval K, Wang Y, Gapstur SM. Walking in Relation to Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Older U.S. Adults. Am J Prev Med. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29056372/ Published January, 2018.
  • Rovere MTL, Maestri R, Caporotondi A, et al. Pre-Discharge Evaluation in Heart Failure – Additive Predictive Value of the 6-Minute Walking Test to Clinical Scores –. Circulation Journal. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/circj/79/8/79_CJ-15-0082/_article. Published July 24, 2015.
  • Sisson M. 17 Health Benefits of Walking. Mark's Daily Apple. https://www.marksdailyapple.com/17-reasons-to-walk-more-this-year/#axzz2qKRo7nqc. Published January 7, 2014.
  • Sisson M. Why Top Thinkers Walk Every Day. Mark's Daily Apple. Published October, 2014.
  • Studenski S. Gait Speed and Survival in Older Adults. JAMA. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/644554. Published January 5, 2011.
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