Studies show that if you exercise by taking a walk most days of the week, you can expect to live longer than the kind of folks who inspired the phrase “couch potato.”
But to ensure your daily walks add as many years to your life as possible, there’s one little tip you should take advantage of. Research proves it works. . .
The Longevity Walk
The tweak in your walking style that will most efficiently increase life expectancy? Pick up the pace. Make your walks brisk walks.
According to a study in Australia, speeding up your walking pace may significantly extend your life.
The researchers tracked the health and walking habits of more than 50,000 people over a 14-year period. They found that walking briskly – at about three to four miles an hour – reduced people’s risk of dying during the study by about 24 percent.
Walking at a slower, easier pace was not as effective, but still dropped the risk of death during the research by 20 percent – a full one-fifth — compared to people who didn’t get off their hindquarters and go for walks.1
Walking’s help in prolonging life was even more effective for older people. For instance, for those over the age of 60, walking at a brisk pace lowered the risk of death from heart problems by a shocking 53 percent. And even walking at a more average, relaxed pace still reduced the risk of death from heart disease by nearly as much — 46 percent.
So please note that walking at a slow pace is by no means worthless. Still, I’m happy to know that my average of about 3.5 miles an hour is fast enough to reap the most benefit.
According to researcher Emmanuel Stamatakis, the best walking speed is one that “makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty when sustained.”
A Walk in The Park
When you’re picking out the best place to go for your walks, researchers make a good argument that you should amble through parkland or other relatively natural, rustic settings. In fact, there is now a substantial field of study on so-called “forest walks” that shows they hugely benefit health even if you loiter around and stop to smell every flower.
For instance research in Canada demonstrates that nature walks are good for your mind as well as your body.
These scientists studied the effects of walks in natural settings for people dealing with depression. They found that walks in wooded areas boosted mood and even helped to keep memory working better.2
“Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature, compared to a walk in a busy urban environment,” says researcher Marc Berman.
Dr. Berman has also been involved with an area of research called Attention Restoration Therapy (ART) which shows that when you interact with a peaceful natural setting, and aren’t surrounded by the noise and hub-bub of a city street, your brain relaxes and enters a contemplative state that refreshes your recall and learning abilities.
Another of his studies involved people who did not suffer from depression. It showed that even if your mind is pretty healthy, you still get a big mental boost from a walk in a wooded park. In that research, the rustic walk lifted performance on attention and memory tests by 20 percent compared to test results of people who walked through busy city streets.3
Step Away From the Screen
Walking can also be a valuable health tool for those of us who work at desks all day long. A study at the University of Missouri-Columbia shows that if you sit at work for extended periods of time, taking periodic ten-minute walking breaks is crucial for restoring blood flow to your lower body4 and keeping your blood vessels functioning properly.
“It’s easy for all of us to be consumed by work and lose track of time, subjecting ourselves to prolonged periods of inactivity,” says researcher Jaume Padilla. “However, our study found that when you sit for six straight hours, or the majority of an eight-hour work day, blood flow to your legs is greatly reduced. We also found that just ten minutes of walking after sitting for an extended time reversed the detrimental consequences.”
Another walking tip – if you have trouble sticking with an exercise program and find it’s hard to be consistent with your daily walks, then it helps to plan to walk with friends or fellow employees.
A study at Anglia Ruskin University in England shows that doing your walks with a group makes you more likely to stick with your resolution to take regular walks.5 It also improves your social connectedness – another thing known to be good for your brain health.