The Easiest Exercise for a Longer Life

New research confirms this one step can prevent disease and promote longevity.

Posted Oct 24, 2017

Tylrande/Pixaby, used with permission
Source: Tylrande/Pixaby, used with permission

The relationship between exercise and health has long been established, leading health experts to recommend a minimum of two-and-a-half hours or more of moderate exercise each week for optimal health and longevity. When it comes to walking only, moderate implies a brisk pace of about three miles per hour. For the first time, researchers at the American Cancer Society (ACS) looked specifically at how walking above and below this minimum level affects health, specifically the health of older Americans, and the news is good.

Physical activity, including walking only, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and to some degree, breast and colon cancers. Walking lowers the markers of some of these diseases, such as insulin, cholesterol and blood pressure levels. The ACS study, published in the October 19, 2017, issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine, also found a strong association between walking and reduced risk of dying from respiratory illness.

Overall, the more you walk, the lower your risk. But these researchers also found that walking below the minimum recommendation as your only form of exercise can extend your life when compared to someone who is inactive. They did not find a significant difference between meeting and exceeding recommended levels in those for whom walking is their only physical activity.

In addition to disease prevention and longevity, walking and other physical activities are also associated with better mental health and improved cognitive functioning. Given that walking is a free and convenient exercise that can be practiced anywhere without special equipment, the researchers describe walking as the perfect exercise for older men and women who are capable.

Harvard Medical School experts point out that walking can be as effective as medication for relieving stress and staving off depression. To help you keep up a walking habit, they say it’s important to tie your walks to other events of the day, such as waking up or taking a lunch break, so that you start to associate walking with these activities, and you have a daily reminder that it’s time to walk.

To keep your walks interesting, they also recommend listening to audiobooks or music while you walk (at low volume, with only one earbud, so you stay aware of your surroundings). Other recommendations include getting a dog (or borrowing a dog or signing up as a volunteer dog walker at a local shelter), walking with an exercise buddy, changing the time of day you walk, and continually finding new walking routes within your community to help keep your routine fresh.

References

Patel AV, Hildebrand JS, Leach CR, et al. Walking in Relation to Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Older U.S. Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine October 19, 2017.

http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(17)30460-9/fulltext

American Cancer Society. Study: Even a Little Walking May Help You Live Longer. October 19, 2017. 

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-even-a-little-walking-may-help-you-live-longer.html

Harvard Medical School. Walking for Health. Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed October 24, 2017.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/walking-for-health

Harvard Medical School. 6Tips to Help You Keep Your Walking Regimen on Track. Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed October 24, 2017. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/6-tips-to-help-you-keep-a-walking-regimen-on-track