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  • Just Taking a Walk Can Extend Your Life, Say Researchers

    Experts have long encouraged moderate or vigorous walking to improve overall health. However, new research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that even some walking is better than none for reducing all-cause mortality in older adults.

    Few studies have explored the potential association between walking and mortality rates in the aging adult population. Researchers attempted to focus on this relationship by analyzing data from participants in the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study Nutrition Cohort. The present study compared baseline 1999 physical activity survey data from 62,178 men (mean age, 70.7) and 77,077 women (mean age, 68.9) with death rates and causes from 1999 through 2012.

    The survey asked participants about a variety of types of physical activity, including pace and frequency of walking. Authors report that 5.8% of men and 6.6% of women had no physical activity at baseline. These "inactive" individuals were compared with individuals assigned to 3 groups for whom walking was their sole form of physical activity: an "insufficiently active" group (walking fewer than 2-3 hours a week), a "minimum up to twice [the standards]" group (2-6 hours per week); and an "exceeding recommendations" group (over 6 hours per week).

    Researchers found that even a small amount of walking had an impact on health, with the all-cause mortality rate for inactive individuals 26% greater than for the "insufficiently active" group. And things got better the more people walked: Compared with the insufficiently active group, participants who walked 2-6 hours per week were 20% less likely to have died by the end of the study, and those who walked more than 6 hours per week were 22% less likely.

    Walking as the only form of physical activity, even at fewer than 2 hours per week, also was significantly associated with lower rates of death from respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, or cancer compared with inactivity. Interestingly, authors note that these effects were similar when comparing by participant sex, baseline age, BMI, prevalent disease status, and leisure-time sitting.

    "Engaging in any walking or other [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity], even if not meeting the minimum recommended levels, is associated with lower mortality compared with inactivity," authors write. Walking is an "ideal activity" for most people, they say, because it is "simple, free, and does not require any training."

    Authors also cite some disturbing facts, asserting that physical inactivity accounts for 6%–10% of the world’s noncommunicable diseases and 11% of United States (US) health care expenditures. In addition, they write, the percentage of US adults over age 65 is expected to reach 20% by 2030.

    Getting people to walk more may take more than sparking interest and motivation—it may also require stronger efforts to create environments that walking easy, or merely possible. According to 1 recent assessment, that part of the equation is missing in much of the country: a National Physical Activity Plan Alliance "report card" on walking and walkability says that the US is falling short when it comes to the pedestrian-friendliness of its communities. APTA is an alliance member.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.