According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week. Sadly, almost half of Americans don’t meet those recommendations. Moreover, a new study shows that sitting for prolonged periods of time raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

So what’s the solution to these problems? Walk, says a growing number of health experts. While activities like jogging, swimming, tennis, and basketball are terrific forms of exercise, not everyone can withstand the rigors of those sports. But brisk walking—and even small breaks away from your desk to walk around a bit—can make a significant impact on your health if you make it a habit.

Some new scientific evidence strongly endorses regular walking:

Tips to Start Walking

  • Most people can start a walking program without consulting a doctor. However, if you have any of the following conditions, speak to your doctor before you begin: heart trouble; diabetes; asthma; pain in arm, shoulder, neck, or chest; faintness or dizziness; shortness of breath after physical activity; bone or joint problems; over age 40 and have not been active.
  • Make a plan first. Where, how often, how far, and with whom will you walk?
  • Pick out comfortable clothes and consider the weather. Will you need clothing to keep you warm or cool while you’re outside?
  • Start out slowly and build up your pace. You should notice an elevated heart rate but still be able to breathe and speak without struggling.
  • Keep an eye on your posture: chin up, shoulders back. Your heel should touch the ground first, with your weight rolling forward across the foot. Toes should point in front of you, and arms should swing naturally as you walk.
  • When you’re ready to stop, slow your pace and cool down gradually..
  • Build up your walking distance and time. Keep a log of your progress and set goals.
  • Pay attention to your safety and surroundings. Walk with others if possible. At nighttime, use light colors or a reflective vest to help drivers see you.
  • One recent study found that a brisk, 20-minute daily walk appeared to lower the risk of premature death. The study looked at more than 334,000 people and found that burning about 90 to 110 calories a day, accomplished in a 20-minute walk, cut the risk of premature death by 16 to 30 percent. “This is a simple message,” says Ulf Ekelund, an author of the report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive.”
  • Walking can be used to counter the problem of spending way too much time at a desk, in the car, or on the couch, according to another recent report. In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers in Toronto calculated that more than one-half of the average person’s waking life is spent being sedentary. The harmful effects of too much sitting are worse for people who don’t do much exercise.
  • Likewise, a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that the harmful effects on your leg arteries caused by sitting for hours can be easily reversed with five-minute walks. Muscles slacken when sitting and hinder blood from traveling back to the heart. When blood pools in the legs, it eventually damages those arteries. But, in an experiment, men who sat for three hours and then walked on a treadmill for five minutes (at just two miles per hour) showed signs of healthier arterial function in their legs. “American adults sit for approximately eight hours a day,” says study leader Saurabh Thosar, a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon Health & Science University. “The impairment in endothelial function is significant after just one hour of sitting. Light physical activity can help in preventing this impairment.”

What’s great about walking is that it can be done anywhere. You can walk around your neighborhood or even up and down the halls of your house or apartment building in poor weather. You don’t need special equipment (just comfortable shoes). And, walking is something almost everyone can do, making it a great social activity.

Evidence suggests that walking with a group of people may be especially beneficial. Researchers in the United Kingdom analyzed data from 42 studies on walking and health benefits. They found that people who joined walking groups had sizeable reductions in blood pressure, body fat, body mass index, resting heart rate, and total cholesterol. In addition, they had improved lung capacity, better general fitness, and lower rates of depression. Also, the authors note, walking rarely results in any injuries or adverse side effects.

 

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References

Sources

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009, July). 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans, Fact sheet for health professionals on physical activity guidelines for adults. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/pa_fact_sheet_adults.pdf

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, July 6). FastStats Exercise or physical activity. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/exercise.htm

Thosar, S.S., Bielko, S.L., Wiggins, C.C., & Wallace, J.P. (2014, Dec. 15). Differences in brachial and femoral artery responses to prolonged sitting. Cardiovascular Ultrasound, 12, 1-7. doi:10.1186/1476-7120-12-50

Retrieved from: https://cardiovascularultrasound.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-7120-12-50

 

Hanson, S., & Jones, A. (2015, Jan. 19). Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 0, 1-7. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094157

Retrieved from: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2014/12/19/bjsports-2014-094157

 

Thosar, S.S., Bielko, S.L., Mather, K.J., Johnston, J.D., & Wallace, J.P. (2015, April 4). Effect of prolonged sitting and breaks in sitting time on endothelial function. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 4, 843-849. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000479

Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25137367

Biswas, A., Oh, P.I., Faulkner, G.E., Bajaj, R.R., Silver, M.A., Mitchell, M.S. & Alter, D.A. (2015, Jan. 20). Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 162, 123-132. doi:10.7326/M14-1651

Retrieved from: http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2091327

 

Ekelund, U., Ward, H.A., Norat, T., Luan, J., May, A.M., Weiderpass, E. . . . Riboli, E. (2015, Jan. 14). Physical activity and all-cause mortality across levels of overall and abdominal adiposity in European men and women: The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition study (EPIC). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101, 613-621. doi:10.394/ajcn.114.100065

Retrieved from: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/101/3/613.full.pdf+html

Source

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2014, Feb.) Walking . . . A step in the right direction.

Retrieved from:

http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/walking.htm

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