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Want to Live Longer (& Healthier)? Start Walking!

Posted Aug 23 2010 6:36pm

What this guy can teach modern man!

Australopithecus afarensis walked the Earth on two feet about three and a half million years ago: Our oldest known upright ancestor. Famed anthropologist Mary Leakey discussed the importance of upright walking in National Geographic: 

One cannot overemphasize the role of bipedalism in hominid development… This unique ability freed the hands for myriad possibilities: carrying, tool-making, intricate manipulation. From this single development, in fact, stems all modern technology. Somewhat oversimplified, the formula holds that this new freedom of the forelimbs posed a challenge. The brain expanded to meet it. And mankind was formed. 

We’ve Gone From Hours A Day Of Vigorous Activity Down To 2 Minutes! 

Our caveman ancestors spent most of their day running after prey or climbing trees and cliffs to forage for food in order to survive. We evolved to be extremely active… but what happened? The average American adult now averages a mere two minutes per day of vigorous physical activity! (1) From an evolutionary perspective humans have always needed to walk but our modern electronic and mechanical conveniences have rendered us almost totally inactive, as if we were caged. Our cage is a self-imposed one of lazy, indolent sloth. And it is slowly killing us. 

Walking Is America’s #1 Leisure Time Exercise! 

Walking is the most popular form of leisure exercise in America (2) and a number of clinical studies (3) (4) (5) have supported the powerful health advantages walkers benefit from such as: 

  • Lower rates of chronic diseases (such as diabetes)
  • Lower risk profiles for developing disabling diseases
  • Faster weight loss that stays off
  • Lowered “bad” cholesterol
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Higher levels of overall physical fitness and even mental health

Walk Every Day To At Least A Moderate Intensity! 

In its first physical activity guidelines which were firmly based on medical evidence: “2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”, the U.S. government established benchmarks everyone should strive to achieve. Researchers agree that it is important to perform daily physical exercise to at least a moderate intensity level (6), and that’s where a walking program can be the “best fit” exercise for most American adults

A Pedometer Will Measure Your Steps & Help Motivate You 

A pedometer will both motivate your walking while measuring your achievements. These electronic devices (7) are affordable and effective, and can ensure that you can keep track of exactly how many steps you’re taking every day. Studies has shown that individuals who take fewer than 5,000 steps per day have a markedly higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, and the most beneficial health results are seen in walkers who exceed 12,500 steps per day (8)

Make Your Goal 2,500 Extra Steps 

Every walker should strive to increase their current daily level by at least 2,500 steps per day: When they do so, research has shown that they will show steady weight loss of no less than half a pound per month and decreases in their systolic blood pressure by almost 4 mm Hg

It’s Simple: Walk More & Live Longer! 

The long term effects of such a plan can literally save your life. In 2005 Dr. Oscar H. Franco published a study (9) that concluded: 

Life expectancy for sedentary people at age 50 years was found to be 1.5 years shorter than for people engaging in moderate daily physical activity and more than 3.5 years shorter than for people with high physical activity levels. 

In 2003, the Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Richard Carmona stated: 

Walking is the biggest bang for our buck. Thirty minutes a day of walking will prevent many cases of diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic diseases. 

The medical proof is crystal clear: Regular walking will extend your life (as long as you don’t step in front of a bus)! 

Vigorous Walking Is Best, But Any Walking Is Beneficial! 

The threshold of “moderate physical activity” is 100 steps per minute, and the frequency becomes “vigorous” at 130 steps per minute (10). According to the government report, these fast steps should be taken in sessions of at least ten minutes each, and spread out evenly through the week for optimum results. The greatest health benefits are in evidence when people who are accustomed to total inactivity begin a walking program (11), amply proving the point: Hey, you sofa spuds, get out there and start walking

The Amish Take Nearly 3 Times As Many Steps Per Day As We Do! 

The average American adult takes approximately 6,000 steps per day while people who do not live a “modern sedentary lifestyle” such as the Amish can average 16,000 (12)! Studies have shown that achieving 10,000 steps per day can markedly improve health and drop those stubborn pounds (13). 

Final Thoughts on How Much We Should Walk 

Our predominant couch potato lifestyle sees many of us wallowing from the kitchen table to the car to our desk and then back home to the sofa: The pursuit of wild game has been replaced by the pursuit of a wild game show! It is imperative for the sake of our health to set up a vigorous, invigorating walking program, preferably exceeding 10,000 steps per day, and stick to it

It’s high time that we return to our roots and start walking as much as evolution engineered us to. After all, Australopithecus didn’t spend all day in the cave watching The Flintstones! 

Key To References 

1. Troiano RP, Berrigan D, Dodd KW, et al. Physical activity in the United States measured by accelerometer. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008;40:181-188
2. Ham SA, Kruger J, Tudor-Locke C. Participation by US adults in sports, exercise, and recreational physical activities. J Phys Act Health. 2009;6:6-14
3. Bravata DM, Smith-Spangler C, Sundaram V, et al. Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health: a systematic review. JAMA. 2007;298:2296-2304. doi: 10.1001/jama.298.19.2296.
4. Richardson CR, Newton TL, Abraham JJ, et al. A meta-analysis of pedometer-based walking interventions and weight loss. Ann Fam Med. 2008;6:69-77. doi: 10.1370/afm.761.
5. Murtagh EM, Boreham CA, Murphy MH. Speed and exercise intensity of recreational walkers. Prev Med. 2002;35:397-400. doi: 10.1006/pmed.2002.1090
6. Sugiura H, Sugiura H, Kajima K, et al. Effects of long-term moderate exercise and increase in number of daily steps on serum lipids in women: randomised controlled trial. BMC Womens Health. 2002;2:3. doi: 10.1186/1472-6874-2-3.
7. Tudor-Locke C, Bassett DR, Shipe M, McClain JJ: Pedometry methods for assessing free-living adults. J Phys Act Health 2010
8. Schmidt MD, Cleland VJ, Shaw K, et al. Cardiometabolic risk in younger and older adults across an index of ambulatory activity. Am J Prev Med. 2009;37:278-284. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2009.05.020
9. Franco OH, de Laet C, Peeters A, et al. Effects of physical activity on life expectancy with cardiovascular disease. Arch Intern Med. 2005;165:2355-2360
10. Tudor-Locke C, Sisson SB, Collova T, et al. Pedometer-determined step count guidelines for classifying walking intensity in a young ostensibly healthy population. Can J Appl Physiol. 2005;30:666-676
11. Blair SN, Cheng Y, Holder JS. Is physical activity or physical fitness more important in defining health benefits? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(Suppl 6):S379-S399
12. Wyatt HR, Peters JC, Reed GW, et al. A Colorado statewide survey of walking and its relation to excessive weight. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005;37:724-730. doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000161750.84096.D4
13. Pronk NP, Thompson DL, Bielak KM, et al. Fitness effects of a 10,000 steps per day goal in overweight adults. Am J Health Promot 2006;21[2]:85’89

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