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Study: Even a Little Walking May Help You Live Longer

senior Asian couple walking outside

A study led by American Cancer Society researchers has found that even low levels of walking are linked with lower mortality, which means walking may help people live longer.

Walking is the most common type of physical activity in the US, and has been associated in previous studies with lower risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The new findings are from a study of almost 140,000 people participating in the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort.

“Going for a walk at an average to brisk pace can provide people with a tremendous health benefit. It’s free, easy, and can be done anywhere,” says Alpa Patel, PhD, Strategic Director, CPS-3, American Cancer Society, and lead investigator of the study. The study was published early online October 19 in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The American Cancer Society recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (equal to a brisk walk, at a pace of 3 miles per hour) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (makes your heartbeat and breathing faster, and makes you sweat) each week, preferably spread throughout the week.

The study found that all levels of walking, even levels below the recommended guidelines, were associated with lower mortality risk. Participants who walked for less than 2 hours per week had a lower death risk than those who got no activity at all. And those who got in 1 to 2 times the recommended level of physical activity just through walking had a 20% lower mortality risk.

The findings are of particular importance for older Americans. The average age of participants in the study was about 69 years. About 6% to 7% of them reported they get no regular moderate or vigorous physical activity. Of the rest, 95% said they do some walking for exercise. About half of those said walking was their only form of physical activity. Most participants who walked reported a pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.

Bottom line

Older Americans in the study who did even a little walking at a moderate pace had a decreased risk of death compared with those who did little or no activity. Those who walked at or above recommended levels decreased their risk even more. Patel calls walking an ideal activity: “Walking is free, easy, and doable for almost everybody.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Walking in relation to mortality in a large prospective cohort of older U.S. adults. Published early online October 19, 2017 in American Journal of Preventive Medicine. First author Alpa V. Patel, PhD, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.