Does Walking Extend Life?

Walking May Be Key to Keeping You Healthy and Well

ARE YOU ONLY TO GET in a 15-minute walk as your physical activity of the day? My patients often ask whether walking counts as exercise and are surprised when I answer “absolutely!” Even minimal physical activity is associated with improvements in health.

Do it right, and you may discover your blood pressure goes down, your cholesterol improves, and you can experience memory improvements. In addition, you can reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more.

Walking can be central to losing weight, dropping blood pressure and cholesterol, and boosting memory, as well as lowering your risk for diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

I prescribe walking to my patients, a “wonder drug” with health and wellness benefits we often underestimate. Moreover, it’s free, and there are no side effects.

Longevity benefit

Every minute counts. A 2014 University of Utah study discovered this:

For every single minute of brisk walking performed, women dropped their risk of obesity by five percent.

The same institution looked at the power of walking in combating being sedentary. Low-intensity activities (for example, standing) may not be enough to offset the health hazards of sitting for long periods.

The scientists found no benefit in decreasing sitting by two minutes each hour and adding two minutes more of low-intensity activities. However, they noted this:

Trade sitting for light intensity activities for two minutes each hour, and there appears to be a 33 percent lower risk of dying.

Perhaps we focus too much on the benefits of moderate or vigorous activity. Light activity appears associated with a lower chance of premature death. Of course, we need large, randomized, interventional trials to definitively answer whether exchanging sitting for light activities leads to better overall health.

Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

But what about heart health? Fifteen minutes of activity is associated with a 22 percent lower risk of early mortality, according to research presented EuroPRevent 2016 meeting. Walking appeared associated with a 43 percent reduced risk of stroke and heart attack, irrespective of heart rate.

Commenting on his research, Dr. David Hupin, of the University Hospital of Saint-Etienne in Saint-Etienne, France, observes:

Commenting on his research, Dr David Hupin, a physician in the Department of Clinical and Exercise Physiology, University Hospital of Saint-Etienne in Saint-Etienne, France observes:

“Age is not an excuse to do no exercise. Regular physical activity has a better overall effect on health than any medical treatment. But less than half of older adults achieve the recommended minimum of 150 minutes moderate-intensity or 75 minutes vigorous-intensity exercise each week.”

For those of you who have not gotten on the physical activity train, the most significant reduction in mortality occurs when we go from being sedentary to becoming moderately active. A study of U.S. veterans is illustrative. Researchers divided subjects into five categories based on their level of fitness.

The least fit healthy adults have an early death risk that is 4.5-times that of the fittest. You may find it surprising that an individual’s fitness level represented a more important predictor of early death than established risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

What a remarkable reminder that fitness and daily activity have a tremendous influence on the incidence of cardiovascular disease and early mortality.

Such studies underscore that fitness and daily activity levels can strongly influence your chances of suffering from heart disease and improve your overall longevity.


Fortunately, the risks of cardiac-related complications (such as a heart attack or a severe heart rhythm problem) are extremely low. For adults without heart disease, the risk of a cardiac event is as low as 1 in 400,000 to 800,000 hours of exercise.

For those with known heart disease, the event rate is about one in 62,000 hours. For regular exercisers, the risk is nearly 50 times lower than for a sedentary person.

Even though the risk of exercise is low, please check with your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program.


If you cannot commit to a half-hour of physical activity on a particular day, try to insert small bits of movement into your routine. Need some ideas? Here you go:3 Small Ways I Move MoreHOW MANY TIMES have you heard me advocate for physical activity? You already know the perils of being sedentary. I try…

Get started. Increasing evidence shows us that physical activity has a powerful influence on a host of chronic diseases. Just put those shoes on, walk outside, and enjoy your walk.

Thank you for joining me today.


Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.
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