Take Fido along — he needs exercise, too. Image: Unsplash/Fancycrave

Walking Just 1 Hour a Week May Improve Longevity

If you wish to live longer and be healthier but claim you don’t have the time to do the exercise that’s known to help with both, you’re fast running out of excuses. Not to be preachy, but c’mon: Can you not spare 59 minutes a week for walking?

A growing body of evidence finds significant health benefits to everything from short weightlifting sessions to incredibly brief high-intensity aerobic sessions, but also brisk walking or stair-climbing that you can do on a lunch break. Any such effort is liable to make you happier, too.

The latest study, announced this week, finds moderately intense activities such as brisk walks, gardening or dancing for just 10 to 59 minutes per week was linked to an 18 percent lower risk of death from any cause, compared to inactive people, over the 14-year course of the study, which drew from data on 88,140 U.S. residents age 40 to 85.

More is Better

Study subjects managing 2.5 to 5 weekly hours of moderate activity saw risk of death drop by 31 percent, and those doing 25 hours or more saw a 46 percent lower risk. Twenty-five hours a week was found to be a practical limit — death risk actually climbed slightly among those doing more. But hey, who wants to exercise 3.6 hours a day, seven days a week?

The study does not establish cause, the researchers caution, and the data depended on self-reporting, which isn’t always accurate.

That duly noted, the results were even more favorable for people who participated in vigorous activities, like running, cycling or competitive sports.

“Participation in vigorous-intensity activity is more time-efficient than moderate-intensity activity,” the researchers report this week in the online version of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. “Vigorous-intensity physical activity may be an attractive option for able-bodied individuals with limited time.”

Curious what “brisk walking” means? Another researcher found a way to figure out the right pace without any fancy devices.

A Better Threshold?

Harvard health researchers, prior to the latest research, offered this advice to gain clear benefits from exercise:

  • Walk briskly for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. Or…
  • Do intense aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes, three days a week.

While an hour of walking per week has now been shown to be better than none, the Harvard guidelines are probably a better rule of thumb for anyone serious about their health, and about hanging around long enough to see which set of guidelines is best.

According to the American Heart Association, brisk walking 2.5 hours a week not only improves blood pressure and cholesterol levels, it increased energy and stamina, improves mood and mental well-being, and improves both sleep and cognitive abilities. And here’s an interesting statistic, also from the Heart Association, to get you motivated for each and every outing:

“For every hour of brisk walking, life expectancy for some people may increase by two hours.”

And as a bonus, other research shows you that almost any activity can boost your brainpower.

Independent health and science journalist, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience, writing about how we age and how to optimize your mind and body through time.

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