As we approach the New Year, it’s natural to think about adopting some healthy, new exercise habits.
But, as always, I urge you to resist the temptation to jump into a huge, ambitious training program.
Instead, just try walking a little more.
Studies show that regular walking—perhaps the oldest and simplest form of exercise on the planet—can help you achieve optimal health and slash your risk of suffering an early death by HALF.
The best part? You don’t need ANYWHERE NEAR 10,000 steps a day, as some “experts” insist, to get these impressive benefits. (In the new year, I’ll also reveal just where the “10,000 steps” idea comes from. And no, it’s not from scientific data or medical observations!)
Here’s everything you need to know…
Walking is the most underrated form of exercise
There’s nothing new about the health benefits of walking. In fact, almost three thousand years ago, the Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) declared, “Walking is man’s [sic] best medicine.”
In more modern times, our current U.S. Surgeon General wants more people to walk as part of his “Step It Up” campaign. (In my view, this Surgeon General should spend more time marching to this tune, instead of pursuing his relentless campaign to declare the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a “public health crisis.”)
Plus, you can walk almost anywhere…at any time…at no cost.
Not to mention, walking is relatively low-impact. (Unlike excessive exercise, or “excess-ercise,” as I call it.) So, it won’t damage your joints, muscles, heart, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, or eyes.
Now, let’s move on to specific ways in which regular walking can improve your health and longevity…
Six science-backed benefits of walking
1.) Walking helps you LIVE LONGER. In a recent study, almost 17,000 women, ages 60 years and older, wore a device that counted their steps for four years between 2011 and 2015. It turns out, women who took at least 2,000 steps per day had a 32 percent lower risk of DYING FROM ANY CAUSE. Plus, for each additional 1,000 steps (about half of a mile) they took per day, they reduced their risk of death by another 28 percent!
Let’s put that remarkable finding in context…
Many people who don’t exercise at all still manage to get in an average of about 2,000 steps a day—just by going about their daily routines. So then, by simply adding 1,000 more steps per day, you can significantly improve your health outlook.
Furthermore, the health benefits in this study plateaued at 4,500 steps per day….which is interesting, considering the popular (but clearly unsubstantiated) recommendation to get 10,000 steps a day!
The study also reinforced the point that a moderate walking pace is sufficient. In fact, the researchers noted that most of the participants walked at a pace considerably slower than “moderately intense” walking.
2.) Walking helps you get better sleep. Walking outdoors in the sunlight can help you feel more awake and alert during daylight hours and feel sleepy when the sun goes down. Morning walks can also help regulate healthy melatonin levels.
Together, these two factors can make a huge difference in improving the quality of your sleep at night. But, really, walking at ANY time during the day (except for the hour or two before bedtime) will help you get better sleep at night.
3.) Walking helps with—and even prevents—arthritis. Several studies show that moderate walking can help improve the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. In addition, walking just five to six miles per week also helps prevent arthritis from ever developing in the first place! That’s because walking encourages the circulation of blood, oxygen, and other nutrients to the cartilage around your hips and knees—two areas where people often develop arthritis.
4.) Walking helps you solve problems. Research shows that creative thinking and problem-solving improve exponentially during a stroll. In fact, Charles Darwin took daily walks around his large garden. And on these walks, he had deep thoughts about biology, which ultimately led to the theory of evolution.
I know when I take my dog, Lolly, for a walk in the morning, I often come up with new ideas to address in my Daily Dispatch or Insiders’ Cures newsletter. Sometimes, I try to rush back to get going on it while it’s still fresh in my mind. Of course, Lolly’s in no rush. She’d rather stop to smell the flowers.
5.) Walking cuts dementia risk by HALF. Daily walking can improve circulation to the brain and increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a critical protein that promotes the growth of brain cells and the synaptic connections among them. And this mechanism seems to help protect the brain against disease.
In fact, according to one recent study conducted by researchers with the University of Virginia, men and women, ages 71 to 93, who walked more than one-quarter mile per day (that’s at least 600 steps or just one lap around the old high school track) experienced HALF THE RISK of dementia compared to those who walked less.
6.) Walking reduces sexual dysfunction. According to a Harvard study, men who walk just 30 minutes per day have a 41 percent lower risk of erectile dysfunction (ED). And walking is certainly much more effective (and safe) than taking a dangerous prescription drug!
I encourage you to get a start on your New Year’s resolution this week. Take a nice saunter—not a jog or a sprint—outside and take your time around the neighborhood to enjoy the festive holiday decorations. Then, come 2022, I hope you’ll continue your moderate, new routine to get 140 to 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week—all while enjoying the sights and sounds of Nature, whenever possible.