The Science Behind Walking
Article Published at www.ardmoreinstituteofhealth.org
“Physical activity is one of the most important things that people of all ages can do to improve their health….Physical activity fosters growth and development, makes people feel better, function better, sleep better, and reduce the risk of a large number of chronic diseases. Health benefits start immediately and even short episodes of physical activity are beneficial. Research shows that just about everyone gains benefits: men and women of all races and ethnicities, young children to older adults, women who are pregnant or postpartum (first year after delivery), people living with a chronic condition or a disability, and people who want to reduce their risk of chronic disease. ”(1)
Of course, all those benefits depend on your personal efforts to get moving. The best kind of physical activity you can do is the kind you enjoy doing, because if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it over the long term. If you haven’t discovered your favorite activities, please consider walking.
Walking is easy. Simple. Safe. No special equipment, clothing or skill is needed. It can be done indoors and out. Solo or with family or friends. And it’s free, unless you don’t happen to own a good pair of walking shoes, in which case, the good news is a good pair won’t break the bank.
- Briskly walking (moderate intensity) has been shown to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure as much as running (vigorous intensity), going the same distance. Furthermore, the farther people walked and the more calories they burned, the greater the reduction in risk.(2)
Note: a brisk walking pace is generally considered to be 100 steps per minute or 3 to 3.5 miles per hour. Since it takes longer to walk a mile than to run it, more time will be spent walking to get the same benefits as you would running.
- Brisk walking about 2.5 hours a week was associated with a substantially lower risk of type 2 diabetes in a systematic review of prospective cohort studies.(3)
- Prospective data from a cohort of older postmenopausal women showed that walking, at an average or brisk pace, for at least 40 minutes two times a week was associated with a reduced risk of developing heart failure over a 10-yr period.(4)
- Walking interventions in patients with chronic low back pain were as effective as other non-drug interventions on reducing pain and disability.(5)
- A 10-minute brisk walk can improve mood as much as 10 minutes of meditation when compared to just sitting.(6)
- Students, in a series of four experiments, experienced a spike in creative thinking during and right after walking. The investigators summarized: “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”(7)
- According to the 2020 American Cancer Society guideline for cancer prevention,(8) regular physical activity is an essential evidence-based strategy for reducing cancer risk, the recommended amount for adults being 150-300 moderate intensity minutes per week (2 hrs, 30mins to 5 hrs). Brisk walking is an ideal way to meet those moderate intensity recommendations. Evidence indicates that more physical activity is needed for the prevention of cancer than for the prevention of heart disease and diabetes. So 300 minutes (5 hours) or more a week is even better. But since the greatest risk reduction is seen from doing nothing to doing anything, any amount of walking is a good place to start and will provide benefit.
In order to optimize your health, engage in at least 150 minutes (2 hrs, 30mins) of moderate intensity physical activity every week.(1) Walking is a healthy, accessible way to do that, even in challenging, uncertain times.
- Williams PT, Thompson PD. Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk reduction. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2013;33(5):1085‐1091. doi:10.1161/ATVBAHA.112.300878
- Jeon CY, Lokken RP, Hu FB, van Dam RM. Physical activity of moderate intensity and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(3):744‐752. doi:10.2337/dc06-1842
- LaMonte MJ, Manson JE, Chomistek AK, et al. Physical Activity and Incidence of Heart Failure in Postmenopausal Women. JACC Heart Fail. 2018;6(12):983‐995. doi:10.1016/j.jchf.2018.06.020
- Sitthipornvorakul E, Klinsophon T, Sihawong R, Janwantanakul P. The effects of walking intervention in patients with chronic low back pain: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Musculoskelet Sci Pract. 2018;34:38‐46. doi:10.1016/j.msksp.2017.12.003
- Edwards MK, Loprinzi PD. Experimental effects of brief, single bouts of walking and meditation on mood profile in young adults. Health Promot Perspect. 2018;8(3):171‐178. Published 2018 Jul 7. doi:10.15171/hpp.2018.23
- Oppezzo M, Schwartz DL. Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2014;40(4):1142‐1152. doi:10.1037/a0036577
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