I used to be a runner. I ran competitively in high school, and then continued running just for the health of it until I was 55. At that point I realized that, although it was heart healthy, running was taking its toll on my knees and hips. While I hated to admit that I was getting older, I decided to exchange my running shoes for walking shoes. Not those black, Velcro tied, old fogies type walking shoes mind you, but the cool New Balance – specifically engineered for walking type “young mans” shoes (it just made the transition a bit easier mentally).

Since then, I have been walking the same distance that I used to run each week. It just takes me a little longer. My knees and hips feel heaps better, and I actually observe a whole lot more of my surroundings than I use to. I find that I enjoy walking more than I use to enjoy running. Every now and then I’ll run just a little to remind myself why I now walk – ouch! I think they are making the footpaths harder now than when I was a younger man.

One thing that I questioned was whether I was still gaining significant health benefits from just walking rather than running. Well, a recently published article answered that question.  Regular walking, even when it’s below the minimum recommended levels for physical fitness, is associated with a lower death rate from all causes compared with inactivity, according to new data from a large, ongoing US cancer prevention cohort study among older Americans.

“A lot of people find it daunting to start an exercise regimen. They think they have to start jogging or doing something intense,” said lead author, Alpa Patel, PhD, a researcher at the American Cancer Society. “There is a tremendous health benefit to simply going out for a walk.”

Walking is “simple, free and does not require any training” and is “the ideal activity for most Americans, especially as they age,” observe Dr Patel and co-authors. Their new study was published online October 19 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Various US guidelines call for adults to perform either more than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity a week to pursue “optimal health.” These are recommended minimum amounts. But the new study showed that 120 minutes or less of weekly moderate-intensity walking is also a boon to one’s life span.

In other words, you can fall short of the minimum goal for adults and still benefit.

This is not “power-walking,” nor is it “strolling through the grocery store,” emphasized Dr Patel. The study evaluated walking at “an average pace.” That speed “may cause you to eventually feel a slight increase in your breathing and will allow you to cover roughly a mile [1.6 K] in 20 minutes,” she said. “Walking at that pace is a moderate-intensity activity, and that’s what a lot of people don’t realize,” Dr Patel noted.

Walking is the most common type of physical activity performed and has been linked to lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, and breast and colon cancers. But the new study is the first to examine walking only (separated out from other activities) in relation to mortality in older men and women.

“Clearly, the more you walk the better. But doing any walking is better than doing none. Being completely inactive is the worst,” Dr Patel summarized the findings in an interview with Medscape Medical News.

I had an elderly patient tell me that she tried to take an aerobics class once. She said she bent, twisted, gyrated, and jumped up and down for an hour. And by the time she got her leotard on, the class was over. I suggested she just try walking.


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