The problem with exercise is that it can often feel like a huge feat just to get started. With official guidelines suggesting we should undertake at least 150 minutes of cardio a week, along with strength exercises, those devoted sofa slugs among us (hand in the air here) may think, “Hey, what’s the point? I’ll never keep that up.”
But an illuminating new study out this week indicates that just a small amount of walking – that most humble of workouts – can significantly cut the chance of early death from disease.
The research, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, shows that walking for just two hours a week – about 17 minutes a day – is linked to a lower risk of dying from cancer and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Dr. Alpa Patel and her colleagues at the American Cancer Society analysed data from 140,000 people who took part in a longitudinal cancer prevention study. They discovered that even people who took on a minimal level of exercise a week were less likely to die as a result, compared to those who were not physically active at all.
The study is glowing testimony to the maxim that some exercise is better than none. And although the results were more pronounced among older adults, they apply to us all.
Less than two hours a week of walking means strolling to the bus every day. Or doing nothing during the week, but factoring in a few park walks at the weekend. In other words, it’s the bare minimum that the workout-reluctant or time-shy could possibly do: and yet still, it cuts your chance of an early death (and we can all agree that’s A Good Thing).
Read more: Why walking is the best exercise you can get
“Walking has been described as the 'perfect exercise' because it is simple, free, convenient, doesn't require any special equipment or training, and can be done at any age,” Dr. Patel tells medicalnewstoday.com.
“[Our] findings are encouraging for the many individuals who do not currently engage in a physical activity regimen, as they can achieve tremendous health benefits from simply walking.”
In the interests of fair reporting, however, it should be noted that the study showed the very best outlook concerning early death came from those who met or exceeded the US national guidelines for physical exercise per week (which is 150 minutes of moderate cardio plus strength training, as in the UK).
Among this rosy-cheeked category, the risk of premature death plunged by 20%, compared to those undertaking little or no exercise. Yet still, walking remained the star workout of choice; the decrease in mortality risk was achieved by walking alone.
Read more: How to kickstart your fitness regime
The study also found that walking had a dramatic effect specifically on preventing respiratory disease-related death. Those who spent more than six hours a week walking had a 35% lower risk of this type of mortality, compared with those who were the least physically active.
The upshot? Walking is great. Doing it just a bit more every week can be a boon to your health, dramatically increasing your chances of, y’know, actually living life.
In a nation where we spend more time on the toilet per week than working out, this can only be positive news.