By Jessica Scarpati –
Feeling uneasy about going back to the gym while the pandemic rages on? Has the one-two punch of stress-eating your way through quarantine while streaming The Office reruns finally caught up with your waistline? Or are you climbing the walls after being cooped up at home for months?
Walk it off. No, really.
Free, easy and thoroughly low maintenance, walking has been shown to improve nearly every aspect of physical and mental well-being. For years, countless studies have linked regular strolls to a longer, healthier and happier life.
“Walking may be as close to a magic bullet as you’ll find in modern medicine,” said physician and researcher Dr. JoAnn Manson in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “If there was a pill that could lower the risk of chronic disease like walking does, people would be clamoring for it.”
Better yet, as little as one mile a day — which most healthy adults can complete in about 15 to 25 minutes — can make a difference.
A daily one-mile walk at a moderate pace (3 mph) was shown to improve the survival rates of people with two common types of cancer, according to a 2014 British study. Breast cancer patients who walked a mile each day were 40 percent less likely to die from the disease, while those with prostate cancer cut their risk of dying from it by 30 percent.
The benefits of brisk walks only step up from there. Walking has been repeatedly linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, improved muscle tone and balance, protection against cognitive decline and a longer lifespan.
Walking is medicine for the mind, too. One study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that people who regularly did 15 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, including brisk walking, were 26 percent less likely to experience depression. Stanford University researchers added that walking also inspired greater creativity when people were asked to come up with alternate uses for common objects. Most participants, for example, generating 60 percent more ideas after walking briefly on a treadmill or outside.
Short of icy sidewalks or rough terrain, walking has the added benefit of having one of the lowest injury rates among all physical activities, according to the U.S. government’s 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. The low-impact nature of walking also makes it more accessible than higher-intensity workouts, such as running, for people who are overweight or who have knee or back problems.
“Walking is the most studied form of exercise, and multiple studies have proven that it’s the best thing we can do to improve our overall health and increase our longevity and functional years,” family physician and sports medicine doctor Dr. Robert Sallis told Consumer Reports.
Those looking to shed the dreaded quarantine 15 or simply maintain your current weight, walking is a pathway good health.
Ultimately, many factors play into how many calories are burnt walking a mile, particularly how long it takes to complete it. The fitter someone is, they faster they are likely to walk and that’s a good thing in terms of calorie burn. Experts, for example, generally advise thinking about physical activity in terms of time and intensity as opposed to distance. Men and women also burn calories at different rates. Other factors include age, weight to how much sleep a walker gets the night before a stroll because it can affect their metabolism.
That being said, Harvard Medical School breaks down estimated calories burned for 30-minute activities at three different weights. For a 125-pound person, walking 3.5 mph for a half-hour burns 120 calories. For a 155-pound person, it’s 149 calories. A 185-pound person expends 178 calories.
If counting steps instead of minutes or miles is the focus, it’s worth noting that the popular goal of 10,000 steps is rooted in marketing — not science. Its origins are murky, but many trace it back to 1965 when a Japanese company sold a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translates “10,000 steps meter.”
“Apparently, the company chose that number because the Japanese character for 10,000 looks like a person walking,” explained Dr. Edward Phillips, a Harvard professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Ten thousand steps works out to about five miles. And while experts say that more is generally better when it comes to walking, studies have shown that many steps aren’t needed to reap the benefits of a good walk. At a certain point, the perks may even plateau.
Looking at data from 4,840 Americans age 40 and older, Phillips found that most people logged 3,000 to 4,000 steps just going about their day. Those who did some extra walking for exercise and reached 8,000 steps a day definitely saw a health boost. In fact, they were about half as likely to die for any reason — but especially from heart disease —compared to those who only logged 4,000 steps per day.
“People who took 12,000 steps per day had an even lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who did 8,000 daily,” reported Harvard’s Heart Letter blog. “But the added benefit was small and walking even more didn’t seem to make a difference.”