Exercise is a sensible part of any personal health strategy, and a new study suggests that even low levels of walking are associated with lower mortality compared to inactivity.
U.S. public health guidelines recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week. However, surveys show that only half of U.S. adults actually reach this ideal target level of activity. Worse than that, older adults are even less likely to reach these recommendations, with only 42% of people between the ages of 65 and 74 and 28% of people age 75 or over meeting this goal.
Walking is a great choice for exercise, as it is low impact, convenient, free to do, and requires no special equipment. It is the most common kind of physical activity and is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. While there are many studies that have focused on moderate to intense physical activity and mortality, there are considerably fewer studies looking at walking.
A research team led by Dr. Alpa Patel examined data from almost 140,000 people in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort. Between 6-7% of people in the study reported that they did no moderate to vigorous physical activity before starting the study. The rest reported they did some walking, with almost half of that number reporting that walking was their only moderately intense physical activity.
After taking into account other risk factors, such as smoking, being overweight and other chronic conditions, the study found that only walking for two hours or less per week was associated with lower all-cause mortality compared to those engaging in no activity. People who met the minimum exercise recommendation of 2.5 to 5 hours a week just by walking had a 20% lower mortality risk. Perhaps the most intriguing thing was that people who exceeded recommendations through walking were almost the same as those who simply met the recommended level of activity.
For those who only walked for more than 6 hours a week, there was a 35% reduction of risk for respiratory disease mortality compared to those who did no activity. Only walking was also associated with around 20% lower risk for cardiovascular disease mortality and an approximately 9% reduction of risk for cancer mortality.
With rejuvenation biotechnology on the horizon but still some years away, it makes sense to do everything you can now to increase your odds of being alive to benefit when these technologies arrive. Walking is by far the most cost-effective and gentle form of exercise, and this study shows that with a very low level of activity your mortality risk can be significantly reduced.
Simply put, if you care about your health and want to live long enough to potentially see the arrival of rejuvenation biotechnologies that directly address the various aging processes, then a moderate, low-impact exercise like walking is absolutely something you should consider as part of your health and longevity strategy.
 Patel AV, Hildebrand JS, Leach CR, et al. Walking in relation to mortality in a large prospective cohort of older U.S. adults. Am J Prev Med. 2017 [in press] DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.08.019.