The health benefits of walking are too often overlooked. You don't have to run a marathon. A walking regimen can help you lose weight and body fat; it can prevent or manage heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes. It also improves cardiovascular fitness, strengthens bones and muscles, boosts your immune system, improves mood, cognition, memory and sleep, reduces stress and tension and can ward off depression.
Even better, it’s possible to get heart health perks by walking for only 7 minutes. What’s the catch? A leisurely stroll won’t do the job. You’ve got to pick up your pace.
These are the findings from data on nearly 90,000 middle-aged adults who took part in the UK Biobank, an ongoing research project that recruits and follows the health of 500,000 volunteers between the ages of 40 and 69. None of the participants in the walking study had a previous history of cardiovascular disease. All wore accelerometers over the course of seven days In order to track how far they walked and the pace at which they walked.
The researchers, from Cambridge and Leicester Universities in the United Kingdom, collected data on the total amount of physical activity each participant engaged in. This total activity was then sorted into categories of exercise intensity and the percentage of time spent in each category was noted.
A brisk walk for 7 minutes was found to be more beneficial than strolling for 14 minutes. If you can sing while you’re walking, then you’re not up to speed.
This wasn’t just a quick study. Participants were followed for seven years on average to calculate the number of heart events including stroke and coronary artery disease over that time.
The team found that total physical activity volume was strongly associated with a lower likelihood of developing heart disease. Especially heartening for folks who don’t have a lot of time to devote to exercising, a brisk walk for 7 minutes was determined to be more beneficial than strolling for 14 minutes.
But that’s not the whole story.
While it’s true that brisk walking in short doses is good for your ticker, the lowest cardiovascular disease rates were among those participants who engaged in higher overall levels of physical activity. A little strenuous exercise is good; more is better.
“Our analysis of data from U.K. Biobank confirms that increasing the total amount of physical activity can lower the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke, but we also found that achieving the same overall amount of physical activity through higher intensity activity has a substantial additional benefit,” said senior author, Tom Yates, a professor of physical activity at the University of Leicester, in a media release.
But how do you know if you’re walking fast enough? There’s something called the “Rating of Perceived Exertion” (RPE) which uses your breath and your ability to talk while walking as a reference point for intensity.
To test yourself, you’ll want to walk with a companion. According to the scale, in order to qualify for a “brisk walk” your breathing should become heavier and talking more difficult. If you can sing while you’re walking, then according to the scale, you’re not up to speed.
The study is published in the European Heart Journal.