Research highlights the potential health benefits of walking

When occasion arises, I use this site as an opportunity to advocate regular activity for its benefits on health and wellbeing. While exercise and activity comes in many forms, I have for some time been a big believer in walking. This form of exercise is available to almost all of us, is free, and is even generally acceptable to those of us who do not consider ourselves as ‘sporty’.

This week’s British Medical Journal contained a couple of interesting articles that focused on walking as an activity. One of the [1] reviewed the evidence that strategies to encourage walking (e.g. counseling, group support, use of pedometers) actually had an impact. In conclusion, this research provided evidence that such approaches seem to lead to an increase in walking time of 30-60 minutes per week.

This paper was accompanied by an editorial which took a broader view of the health impact of walking, including the evidence that even relatively low intensity exercise such as this can improve health.

The best evidence we have in this area tends to be ‘epidemiological’ in nature. This essentially means that it compares the health of individuals who are active with the health of more sedentary individuals. This sort of evidence is not ideal, but it’s the best we have.

This evidence does suggest that the health benefits of walking may be substantial. As the BMJ editorial [2] pointed out, studies have found that women who increased both walking distance and speed had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and overall risk of death [3,4]. The risk in those who were most active was about half that those who were least active. In another study, those who cycled to work were found to be at 30 per cent lower risk of death compared to non-cyclists after accounting for other factors that could affect the results including general activity levels, socioeconomic status and smoking [5].

I reckon one of the major barriers to exercise is time. However, if truth be told, many of us could liberate 20-30 minutes each day quite easily. Here are a few suggestions how:

  • Don’t turn on the television in the evening (or any other time of day for that matter).
  • Avoid checking and reading emails incessantly aim for 1 – 3 checks at predetermined times in the day.
  • Don’t buy a newspaper  very rarely is anything important going to be missed by not getting one’s daily fix of print media.
  • Get up earlier (getting to bed a bit earlier is the secret here!)
  • Schedule exercise into the day  at the start of every day or week, work out where some activity can go and view it as no different to a meeting or appointment.

Just employing one or two of these strategies will usually be all it takes to free up the time to weave some walking into one’s life with relative ease.


1. Ogilvie, D, et al. Interventions to promote walking: systematic review. BMJ 2007;334:1204

2. Andersen LB. Physical activity and health. Even low intensity exercise such as walking is associated with better health. BMJ 2007;334:1173

3. Manson JE, et al. A prospective study of walking as compared with vigorous exercise in the prevention of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med 1999;341:650-8

4. Hu FB, et al. Walking compared with vigorous physical activity and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. JAMA 1999;282:1433-9

5. Andersen LB, et al. All-cause mortality associated with physical activity during leisure time, work, sports, and cycling to work. Arch Intern Med 2000;160:1621-8

4 Responses to Research highlights the potential health benefits of walking

  1. Richard Lee 16 June 2007 at 8:49 am #

    If you drive to work, one way of scheduling exercise into your day might be to park a couple of kms from your workplace & walk the rest of the way (this may also make a small dent in town centre congestion & pollution). Unfortunately local authorities’ short-sightedness or greed can make this difficult when, for instance, time restrictions are introduced in suburban streets where parking was previously free & unrestricted.
    Perhaps this calls for some sort of national Park & Walk scheme?

  2. steve gilder 18 June 2007 at 8:33 am #

    I have a sedantory job in London and was clearly unfit; but I thought I was too busy to fit exercise into my regime. Then on 2 January a few years ago I got out at London St Pancras and for some mad reason decided to walk to my office at Embankment, guessing the route. It took me 32 minutes, yet I always allowed half an hour in the evenings for the tube ride to St P in time to get my train! So for maybe 5 minutes longer each day I got 60 minutes of good walking exercise.

    Now I still can’t say I’m truly fit; but I do walk up every escalator, walk rather then tube whenever I can, and sometimes even get out at Covent Garden and hit the 186 stairs to the top. I also now cycle (fair weather only!) the two miles to the station, and it takes me just 3 minutes longer for 10 minutes more execise.

    So, by thinking about what you do and seeing if there’s a substitute way of doing it, I’ve found I can fit in a reasonable amount of exercise without taking up much time. Try scoring your own ‘points’ in a day – 1 for walking up an escalator, 5 for using the stairs, 50 for the Covent garden stairs! etc and it’s surprising just how much modest exercise you can squeeze into a day with minimal impact on your time.

  3. Tiggy 20 June 2007 at 1:20 am #

    Watching television isn’t as sedentary as sitting at the computer. I do Pilates and sit ups whilst watching tv, whereas at my computer I just slump and drink Pimms.


    PS. Going to bed earlier and getting up earlier doesn’t actually give you any more time in which to walk – it just shifts round your day a bit. You can walk at any time during that day and at night too – depending on where you live.


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