By Dr. Mercola
If you want to add seven years to your lifespan, set aside 20 to 25 minutes for a daily walk. This simple habit, which can also arguably be one of the most enjoyable parts of your day, has been found to trigger an anti-aging process and even help repair old DNA.
The research, presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress, followed 69 people between the ages of 30 and 60. Those who engaged in daily moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk or jog, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and strength training experienced anti-aging benefits that could add an additional three to seven years to your life.1
The researchers recommended a 20-minute daily walk to reap these benefits, but while I agree a daily walk is a phenomenal health tool, I don’t view it as a form of exercise.
It’s an essential movement that we all require – and you likely need more than 20 minutes of it a day in addition to a regular exercise program. As noted by Katy Bowman, a scientist and author of the book, Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement:2
“Walking is a superfood. It’s the defining movement of a human.”
What Are the Benefits of Regular Walking?
As mentioned, walking may help to slow down the aging process, and it works no matter what age you get started. Study author Sanjay Sharma, professor of inherited cardiac diseases in sports cardiology at St. George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London, told The Independent:3
“We may never avoid becoming completely old, but we may delay the time we become old. We may look younger when we’re 70 and may live into our nineties. Exercise buys you three to seven additional years of life. It is an antidepressant, it improves cognitive function, and there is now evidence that it may retard the onset of dementia.”
Part of what makes walking so beneficial is that when you’re walking you can’t be sitting. Sitting for more than eight hours a day is associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes, along with increased risks of heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.4
The average New Zealander actually spends nine to 10 hours of their day sitting, and certain occupations, such as telecommunications employees, spend an average of 12 hours sitting each day.5
For many years, exercise was promoted as the solution to this largely sedentary lifestyle, but research suggests it can’t counteract the effects of too much sitting. The more you move around and get up out of your chair, the better, and walking is part of this.
Research even shows getting up and walking around for two minutes out of every hour can increase your lifespan by 33 percent, compared to those who do not.6 According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), the average person only walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps per day,7 but aiming for 10,000 steps is a better goal.
Slash Your Risk of Heart Disease, Cancer, Osteoporosis, and More
One study found that walking for two miles a day or more can cut your chances of hospitalization from a severe episode of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by about half.8
Another study found that daily walking reduced the risk of stroke in men over the age of 60.9 Walking for at least an hour or two could cut a man’s stroke risk by as much as one-third, and it didn’t matter how brisk the pace was.
Taking a three-hour long walk each day slashed the risk by two-thirds. Walking has additional benefits as well, including to your mood. Walking triggers your body to release natural pain-killing endorphins, and the more steps people take during a day, the better their mood tends to be.10
Walking is even known to improve sleep, support your joint health, improve circulation, and reduce the incidence of disability in those over 65. 11 Research has also shown that walking 30 minutes a day may:12
Reduce the risk of coronary heart diseaseImprove blood pressure and blood sugar levelsImprove blood lipid profile
Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesityEnhance mental well beingReduce your risk of osteoporosis
Reduce your risk of breast and colon cancerReduce your risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes
How to Kick Your Walking Up a Notch
The very act of walking is beneficial, as it’s a fundamental movement of the human body. If you’re just starting out on a walking program (after being mostly sedentary), walk at a comfortable pace and work gradually on increasing your pace and distance.
Once you’ve eased into a daily walk, you can turn it into a high-intensity workout of sorts, which may be especially beneficial if you’re elderly or unable to engage in other forms of high-intensity workouts.
One program created by Dr. Hiroshi Nose and colleagues at the Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine in Matsumoto, Japan consists of repeated intervals of three minutes of fast walking, aiming for an exertion level of about six or seven on a scale of one to 10, followed by three minutes of slow strolling. As reported by The New York Times:13
“In their original experiment, the results of which were published in 2007, walkers between the ages of 44 and 78 completed five sets of intervals, for a total of 30 minutes of walking at least three times a week. A separate group of older volunteers walked at a continuous, moderate pace, equivalent to about a 4 on the same exertion scale.
After five months, the fitness and health of the older, moderate group had barely improved. The interval walkers, however, significantly improved aerobic fitness, leg strength, and blood-pressure readings.”
Walking Is a Great Way to Get Sun Exposure, Too
I personally walk about two hours a day or about 55 miles per week. I do this barefoot without a shirt on at the beach and so am able to get my sun exposure at the same time, which is an added benefit. I also like to read while I walk and this allows me to read two or three books a week.
Multi-tasking like this allows me to easily justify the time investment. Walking actually burns the same amount of calories as running… it just takes longer. However, I also do some form of “exercise” every day. This includes strength training twice a week, HIIT twice a week with weights or on an elliptical machine, and a light 10-minute workout three times a week on recovery days.
But since walking isn’t exactly exercise, you can do it every day without needing any recovery days for your body to repair and regenerate; it doesn’t tear down your body much, so it doesn’t require recovery time.
The downside is that walking won’t build your body up much either, unless you start out very unfit. For those who are fit, walking is a phenomenal maintenance activity that will allow you to be healthy into old age. Just be sure you have someone knowledgeable seriously analyze your posture.
I see many people walking on the beach and most of the elderly have terrible posture. They have lost much of their thoracic extension and are bent forward shuffling along. An excellent book that can help in this area is “Natural Posture” for Pain-Free Living by Kathleen Porter.
Have You Tried Barefoot Walking?
While you’re getting in the habit of a daily walk, choose a spot that’s suitable for barefoot walking – like a grassy park or sandy beach – and give it a try. In addition to the physical benefits of walking, walking barefoot allows your body to absorb free electrons from the Earth through the soles of your feet, a practice known as grounding.
These electrons have powerful antioxidant effects that can protect your body from inflammation and its many well-documented health consequences. For example, one scientific review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health concluded that grounding (walking barefoot on the earth) could improve a number of health conditions, including the following:14
Sleep disturbances, including sleep apnea Chronic muscle and joint pain, and other types of painAsthmatic and respiratory conditionsRheumatoid arthritis
Immune system activity and responseHeart rate variabilityPrimary indicators of osteoporosisFasting glucose levels among people with diabetes
So to recap, walking daily is excellent. Walking daily for 10,000 steps or more is even better. And if you can do so outdoors in the sunshine, and barefoot for grounding, you’ll enjoy even greater benefits. To be clear, you don’t have to do your 10,000 steps a day all at once. You can break up your daily steps into any size increments that work for you. You might walk for one hour in the early morning, 30 minutes during your lunch hour, and another hour in the evening. Or you might enjoy taking shorter 20-minute walks throughout your day.
I recommend using a pedometer, or better yet, one of the newer wearable fitness trackers, to keep track and find out how far you normally walk. At first, you may be surprised to realize just how little you move each day. Tracking your steps can also show you how simple and seemingly minor changes to the way you move around during the day can add up. Plus, it’s motivating to see your steps increase throughout the day, which makes it easier to push yourself a little farther to reach your 10,000-step goal.