The Benefits of Walking in 3 Studies

As much of our lives move online, scientists have been warning about the dangers of a lifestyle that is too sedentary in nature. Walking has long been considered as an exercise that can ensure that people of all ages can keep in good health and lower risk factors for diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Scientists are debating how much and how hard the exercise has to be, but not everyone is capable of moving quickly. What level of exercise should be expected of people and how can it be fulfilled if that person suffers from osteoarthritis, for example. Walking is an exercise that most people can take part in, the importance is that it is undertaken regularly. May is National Walking Month, to bring the importance of exercise to people’s attention.

The Benefits of Walking in 3 Studies

Benefits of Walking & Cycling outweigh the harmful effects of air pollution

In 2016, scientists from the University of Cambridge, conducted a study in the benefits of walking or cycling versus the negative effects that air pollution can have on the human body. The study was published in Preventive Medicine in 2016 and is available to read under a Creative Commons licence. The use of walking or cycling to enable people to get from A to B, has long been suggested as a help for people who wish to increase their levels of exercise, but notes of warning have been sounded because of the possibility of high levels of air pollution in busy cities and towns. Previous studies examining active travel and health benefits have suggested that the benefits outweigh the risks, although these studies were mostly undertaken in areas with lower air pollution.

Scientists used computer simulations to calculate the differences in risks and benefits for people undertaking active travel in various cities in the world. The simulations were able to take into account differing levels of pollution that people would be exposed to while walking or cycling. The scientists were able to calculate that only 1% of cities in the Ambient Air Pollution Database belonging to the World Health Organisation, would have air pollution that could begin to outweigh the benefits of exercising. The scientists were happy with the findings, but argued that air pollution still needs to be reduced in cities to encourage more people to take up active transport. They suggested that it could become a circle where people take up cycling or walking which would, in turn, reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

The scientists also suggested that air pollution could vary in different locations in the same city, or it is possible for their to be a short-term increase in air pollution in a town. This may cause problems for people who suffer from lung problems.


Knee Joint with Cross Section.

Regular exercise could have an effect on blood pressure similar to that of using blood pressure drugs, claims study

Scientists from the University of Western Australia, the University of Melbourne and the University of Hong Kong studied a small group of people to test how small amounts of exercise could affect blood pressure. Sixty seven volunteers, slightly more women than men, were invited to take part in three different types of activity. The activities and conditions where the studies were carried out were standardised as much as possible to make sure the results accurately reflected what was happening. The study was published in Hypertension, in 2019, a peer-reviewed journal and the abstract and references are available to be accessed online.

The three activities included the participants sitting for 8 hours and only getting up to go to the toilet, sitting for one hour, walking for 30 minutes on a treadmill and then sitting for 6.5 hours and sitting for an hour, walking for 30 minutes on a treadmill and then interspersing the last 6.5 hours with 3 minute walk breaks, every half an hour. The participants’ adrenaline levels and blood pressure were taken at the beginning of the day and throughout. They all ate standardised meals.

One third of the participants had been diagnosed with high blood pressure. The scientists found that the group that sat down for most of the day had higher blood pressure than those who took walks. They expected this to be the result. However they found an extra average drop in blood pressure for people who added 3 minute walks for every half an hour. However the effect was mostly seen in women - the men did not have a statistically significant change. The researchers compared the change to that of people taking drugs that help lower blood pressure, but they did not say that they had proven that such regular exercise could replace the drug treatment.

People may find it easy to add a daily 30 minute walk into their daily routine, and people who sit at a computer for long periods need to make sure that they take regular breaks. However people should also be aware that it is dangerous to stop taking medicines without consulting a doctor.

An hour of walking a week can help keep disability at bay

A team of scientists have studied the amount of walking required to help people reduce their risk of disability, and keep their independence for longer, and concluded that as little as an hour of brisk walking a week could be helpful, even to people who have already developed osteoarthritis. The scientists felt that the fact that so little exercise could be so helpful, could encourage older people to begin to take exercise more regularly. The study was published in April in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

The US study analysed data from over 1500 adults. The data was part of the national Osteoarthritis initiative. The participants were not disabled, but they all experienced living with osteoarthritis including aches, pains and stiffness. They were monitored for up to four years to see whether any could stay disability-free.

The scientists found that an hour a week of physical activity which ranged from moderate to vigorous could lower the risk of disability related to mobility by 85%. Those people who regularly got some exercise were also more likely to be able to still look after themselves. The participants who did not exercise for at least an hour of moderate activity were more likely to be finding it hard to remain mobile. Twenty four percent by the end of the study, were walking so slowly that they were unable to cross the street before the pedestrian lights changed, while 23% found it difficult to do their daily tasks, including dressing themselves, walking across the room or bathing.

US government advice currently suggests that people try to carry out 2.5 hours of moderate physical exercise, but this may prove difficult for people in pain. The scientists suggested that 1 hour a week may seem more achievable as a minimum threshold.

The UK government currently recommends that adults over 65 who are fit and healthy should do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity which could include cycling or walking weekly and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that help strengthen muscles. Older adults who are more sedentary, or are at risk of falls, should do exercises to improve balance and co-ordination for at least 2 days a week.

Moderate aerobic activity raises your heart rate, making you breathe faster. This can include walking, ballroom and line dancing, water aerobics, riding a bike on the level, playing doubles tennis, canoeing or volleyball, or mowing the lawn. Vigorous exercise includes running, jogging, aerobics, fast riding a bike or swimming, singles tennis, going for an uphill hike, dancing energetically, playing football or taking part in martial arts. The exercise makes you breathe hard and fast. Yoga, pilates or lifting weights are examples of activities that can help strengthen muscles.

People who notice that their knee pain is getting worse, should consult their GP.

Tainio, M., et al., Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking? Preventive Medicine, 2016

Wheeler M.J., Dunstan, D.W., Ellis, K.A., et al. Effect of Morning Exercise With or Without Breaks in Prolonged Sitting on Blood Pressure in Older Overweight/Obese Adults Hypertension, published online February 20 2019

Dunlop, D.D,, et al., One Hour a Week: Moving to Prevent Disability in Adults With Lower Extremity Joint SymptomsAmerican Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2019

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