What is new about the benefits of walking?

A couple walking in Lisbon, Portugal. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
A couple walking in Lisbon, Portugal. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

In order for man to succeed in life, God provided two means, education and physical activity. Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise can save it and preserve it.
—Plato 400 B.C.

Many studies have shown that higher-intensity exercise yields more favorable effects on mortality and disease risk than lower-intensity exercise. But lower-intensity exercises like walking have health benefits as well.

As we get older and our bodies start to slow down, people tend to spend thousands of dollars to fight off old age. There is a cheaper way to fight the aging process and preventing disease – walking! But until now there wasn’t much scientific research to back that by number.

As is known, benefits of walking are many. Walking can reduce risks of dementia, cancer and heart disease. One question which has not been answered is exactly how many steps people should walk per day to optimize those benefits.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (September 12, 2022) says walking 10,000 steps a day is a very healthy target and walking faster is even better.

Scientists from the University of Sydney and the University of Southern Denmark studied 78,500 adults in the U.K. between 2013 and 2015. The data set was composed of mainly white, healthy, well-educated individuals between 40 and 79 years old.

The study participants wore activity trackers 24 hours a day for one week, which recorded how many steps they walked as well as the pace at which they walked. Researchers looked at their health outcomes seven years later. Their results are summarised here:

  1. Walking 10,000 steps a day lowers the risk of dementia by about 50 per cent, the risk of cancer by about 30 per cent and the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 75 per cent.
  2. You don’t have to walk the full 10,000 steps a day to get significant health benefits. Every 2,000 steps walked lowered the risk of premature death incrementally by eight to 11 per cent, up to approximately 10,000 steps a day.
  3. The study found beyond 10,000 steps, health outcomes plateaued.
  4. Walking at a faster pace was associated with further benefits for all outcomes they measured. For example, walking 10,000 steps a day cuts the risk of dementia by 50 per cent — but walking at a faster pace can add an extra 10 to 15 per cent reduction in risk.
  5. Very high step counts – in the range of 20,000 steps and beyond – may actually decrease health benefits.
  6. This study is the first to examine the link between walking and health outcomes like cancer, dementia and cardiovascular diseases.

Over the years I have discussed the benefits of walking and exercise in my columns. There have been many studies published from various institutions promoting benefits of walking. If you have difficulty walking then take up swimming or other activity that will keep you moving.

There is a great need for any approach that could slow the rising epidemic of dementia, cancer and heart disease.

Move more and move often.

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