When it comes to walking workouts, shorter distances make a major impact.
Despite recommendations to log 10,000 steps per day and engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found you don’t actually need to log very many miles to benefit from a walking workout.
SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING
The study followed 140,000 older adults for more than a decade and found that walking as little as two hours per week — 30 minutes less than federal guidelines recommend — was associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality. In other words, those who walked a little were less likely to die from any cause during the study period than those who didn’t walk at all.
Walking at a pace of 3 miles per hour (or a 20 minute-mile) was associated with a lower risk of premature death overall as well as death from specific diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease.
“[The findings were] not surprising as most studies show that going from inactivity to any activity infers a substantial health benefit,” explains lead researcher Alpa Patel, PhD, cancer epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society. “The encouraging message through this research is that simply walking at a modest pace can have tremendous health benefits.”
No shortage of studies have extolled the health benefits of walking, which range from burning calories and strengthening muscles and bones to boosting mood but the research is often based on the benefits of walking workouts that fall within the recommended federal guidelines of 150-plus minutes per week.
Research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity examined the results of 14 studies and noted an 11% reduced risk of all-cause mortality among those who walked 169 minutes per week. But it wasn’t just the walkers who hit the federal recommendations who benefited. In fact, the greatest health gains were among those who walked the least.
“We saw that the biggest effects at the low end of the curve,” explains study author Paul Kelly PhD, lecturer in the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh. “Moving from 10 minutes [of walking] per day to 20 minutes per day would have greater effects than moving from 50 minutes to 60 minutes [of walking per day].”
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The message that short walks offer health benefits is welcome news for certain populations: Kelly notes that those who are sedentary or sidelined as a result of illnesses or injuries will likely be buoyed by the results because a shorter walk feels like an achievable change.
“Anything is better than nothing,” he says.
MORE IS STILL MORE
Of course, the more you walk, the more profound the impact on your health.
In Patel’s study, the risk of all-cause mortality decreased 20% from those who walked 150 minutes per week or more compared to those who walked less. Walking more than 360 minutes per week — just under one hour per day — was associated with a 35% lower risk of respiratory disease-related mortality.
“Participants who walked less than recommended levels did experience benefits compared to inactive participants,” Patel says. “However, individuals should strive to meet or exceed recommended amounts of activity for greater health benefit.”