Some people may scoff at walking as a form of exercise, but that condescension is misplaced. One study published earlier this year showed that, if you cover the same number of miles per week, running and walking are equally effective in combating hypertension and depression. Another study reached the same conclusion concerning coronary heart disease. (MORE: The Surprising Health Condition Walking Can Prevent)
Now the author of that second study, Paul Williams, Ph.D., has published research focused solely on walkers, and has added this caveat: Intensity seems to matter when walking for exercise, with faster walkers having better long-term health outcomes.
Writing in the online journal PLoS One, Williams reports on the relationship between self-reported walking pace and incidence of disease and death in almost 39,000 recreational walkers. During the 9.4-year study period, each additional minute per mile in walking pace was associated with a 1.8% increase in mortality, and similar increased incidence of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and dementia. This was true even among the walkers who met current federal guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity.
Williams acknowledges it may be the case that healthier people are able to walk faster. Nonetheless, he writes, "these analyses are consistent with the hypothesis that intensity affects walking's health benefits."
Still not convinced? Here's more on the power of walking:
It builds your foundation for running. Walking puts your legs and arms through the same general range of motion as running, but without the same impact on your bones and joints, and without the same risk of getting hurt. Plus it gives you an opportunity to explore convenient, safe, traffic-free routes, which will become super important as you get into a routine.
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It keeps you healthy and injury-free. When you're running, at some point both feet come off the ground at the same time, and when you land, the impact can be up to two to three times your body weight. But when you're walking, one foot is on the ground at all times. That drastically reduces the impact on your bones and joints compared with running.
Form is important. Most walkers find an upright posture to be the most natural and comfortable. Take short steps to avoid overstriding, which can cause aches and pains in your legs, feet, and hips. Keep your feet low to the ground and step lightly.
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