By Dr. Joseph Maroon
Summer is here! What a great time to be outdoors. The barbeques, backyard picnics, and spending the days at the pool are all fun activities this time of year, and so is walking. Every day, on average, we walk about 5,000 steps just doing our normal activities. This is about 2.5 miles. But recent studies show that just walking an extra 2,000 to 3,000 steps (1 to 1.5 miles), or a total of 7,000 and 8,000 steps on most days, we would be in the “sweet spot” for obtaining significant health benefits. Converted to minutes, this means walking at least 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes most days, in addition to any moving around we do as part of our normal, daily lives.
When I say significant health benefits, I mean reductions in the BIG 3 causes of early death from – cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. By intentionally walking for an average of 30 minutes or more a day, you increase aerobic activity and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke by 35% percent. Walking can also reduce excessive blood sugar and help prevent Type 2 diabetes by 40%.
When it comes to protecting against dementia (the most common cause is due to Alzheimer’s disease), even some activity is better than none. In a recent 2022 study that was reported in JAMA, researchers tracked 78,000 healthy people (ages 40 to 79) for seven years, and even those who walked just 3,800 steps per day (about two miles) were about 25% less likely to develop dementia. Those who walked about 9,800 steps per day (about five miles) were 51% less likely to develop dementia. There is no medical treatment or drug that can claim this degree of prevention that is impacting more and more people.
Even deadly breast cancer in women has been shown to be reduced by walking. A 2019 study of women in their 70s, who walked 4,500 steps a day, were able to reduce their risk of premature death by breast cancer by about 40 %, when compared to women completing 2,700 or fewer steps a day. The risks for early death continued to drop among the women walking more than 5,000 steps a day.
Walking has been as natural to us as breathing, but modern lifestyles have changed. We now walk less that we ever have in human history. By reducing walking, you burn fewer calories and are more likely to gain weight. You may lose muscle strength and endurance and develop joint degeneration and weak bones that can lead to joint replacements and bone fracture. Your immune system may not work as well, and your body may suffer from increased “silent” inflammation.
My prescription for you this summer is to walk! Enjoy the nature that surrounds us and help yourself to avoid disease and live a longer and healthier life.