If you want to step up your exercise and your health, then you may want to consider walking. It sounds like such a simple solution, and it is. But don’t underestimate the power of increasing your health—one step at a time. There’s a lot of research on the benefits of walking, and here are some findings you may be interested in.
First of all, walking seems to lead to a lower mortality rate. A Harvard alumni study followed some of its graduates for 12 years and discovered that among those who walked for exercise, there was a 23 percent lower rate of death than those who didn’t walk routinely for exercise. The best mortality predictor, by the way, is considered a person’s level of cardiorespiratory fitness. And walking supports cardiorespiratory health.
Speaking of cardio and health. . . studies also say that walking decreases the risk of heart disease by as much as 50 percent. That’s significant, too, considering that heart disease ranks high as a top killer of Americans. Then there’s blood sugar. In one study, those who were at a high risk for developing full-blown diabetes combined walking with other lifestyle measures, and nearly 60 percent of the participants reduced their progression to diabetes.
Another area in which walking was cited as a health booster is in slowing the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the older population. Of those who began a walking routine, they were able to reduce their progression of both dementia and Alzheimer’s by nearly 50 percent.
You can also become more strong and resilient from walking. For example, in people with knee arthritis who walked only three hours per week, their pain and the extent of feeling “disabled” by arthritis decreased by almost half. Another benefit of walking to post-menopausal women is that walking for only four hours a week decreased the risk of hip fracture by over 40 percent.
Mental well-being may be in the offing for walkers, too. One study indicated that approximately one-third of depressed people said they felt better after walking for only a little bit. After upping their steps, the number of depressed folks who said they felt better climbed to about half. Walking is also an anxiety reducer for about half of all people who participate in a walking regimen.
But just how much walking is enough? You may have heard that a goal of walking 10,000 steps is one to shoot for. It’s because 10,000 steps daily are equivalent to the Surgeon General’s advice to get in 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week to reduce risk for disease and to help glean a longer, healthier life. The 10,000 steps daily are also measurable, so there’s no guesswork as to whether or not you’re getting your steps in each day. So, get a pedometer and wear it to see how many steps you’re taking. It’s that simple!
The truth is that we need to be moving more because we typically sit too much and for too long—and it’s hurting our health. Research points out that sitting for long periods of time for work, commutes, watching television or just lounging around, ups our risk for metabolic syndrome, heart attack, stroke and overall death risk.
“Prolonged sitting has been shown to disrupt metabolic function resulting in increased plasma triglyceride levels, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol), and decreased insulin sensitivity," says Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Australia.
Van der Ploeg and colleagues discovered that sitting for 11 or more hours per day increased risk of death by 40 percent, regardless of other activity levels. Additionally, a study by the American Cancer Society found that men who sit for more than six hours daily during their leisure time have a mortality rate 20 percent higher than for men who sit for half that time or less. For women who sit for six hours or more per day, the mortality rate doubles.
It’s obvious that we need to be moving more. If you’re off the clock, then go for a walk, go to the gym—but just keep moving. If you’re on the clock at work, for example, get up frequently from sitting. Take a quick walk around the building during your lunch break or other breaks, or take the stairs instead of the elevator.
You can also do a combo sit-and-stand work station—while still taking an occasional minute or two to walk around each hour or so. Why a combo? Sitting has its downsides, but excessive standing does, too, such as leading to musculoskeletal problems, particularly in the legs, knees and lower back. The good news, however, is that you burn 40 percent more calories standing than sitting. So, take several walking breaks during the day to ensure that you’re neither sitting nor standing too much. You can also look for a treadmill desk or even use a yoga ball chair at work to move a bit more while sitting.
What about you? Do you need to step it up? If so, try walking. Huge health benefits await you.