Walking is widely recommended for its health benefits. According to a recent U.S. Surgeon General report on physical activity and health in America, more than half of the U.S. population does not participate regularly in any type of exercise. That physical inactivity can lead to poor health.
The Surgeon General urged Americans to "get in shape," encouraging everyone to get at least one-half hour of moderately vigorous activity (such as brisk walking) each day. The latest recommendations suggest that you should try to walk two miles at a brisk pace of three to four miles per hour nearly every day.
It is increasingly obvious that one of the best ways to maintain good health is through physical activity. Regular participation in exercise has been shown to be helpful in the prevention of such killers as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Exercise also helps to control weight. (According to the latest research, one out of three Americans is obese.)
And because exercise helps to strengthen muscles and bones, it can even decrease your risk of developing diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis.
Some of the most interesting and overwhelming evidence supporting the need to be physically active is from the research being conducted at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, known as the "father of aerobics," founded the Cooper Clinic in the early 1970s to investigate the effects of physical activity and fitness on health and longevity and to help people develop healthy lifestyles.
In July 1996, research from the Cooper Institute showed that participating in moderate to high levels of physical activity reduced the risk of dying from any given cause. This held true regardless of other risk factors. In other words, even if an individual suffers from high blood pressure or obesity, the chances of dying are lessened by maintaining at least a moderate level of fitness. This is remarkably good news, especially for individuals who have hereditary risk factors such as a family history of heart disease.
In 2007, Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, published an updated report on physical activity and public health. In order to make a recommendation on the amount of exercise necessary to benefit America's health, an expert panel of scientists, including physicians, epidemiologists, exercise scientists, and public-health specialists reviewed research on physical activity and the impact of exercise on health.
Their conclusion was the same as the plea issued by the Surgeon General: "Every U.S. adult should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, or preferably all, days of the week." The researchers determined that intermittent as well as sustained activity can be beneficial. In other words, on days when you can't fit in a 30-minute walk, you can still garner fitness benefits by taking two or more shorter walks squeezed in throughout the day. This may seem somewhat confusing to those of you who are well acquainted with previous recommendations to exercise for a sustained period of 20 to 60 minutes. The Surgeon General's report is not meant to overshadow or replace these previously recommended exercise guidelines.
Exercising for a sustained period of time is still the best way we know to make improvements in your cardiorespiratory fitness. But for many, exercising for long periods of time can be intimidating. And most of us experience days when unforeseen events throw off our schedules and prevent us from having a solid block of time for exercise.
Significant health benefits can be realized by simply ceasing to sit and starting to move. The risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, and colon and breast cancers can be reduced just by becoming more physically active.
In the next section, learn more about the link between walking and heart disease.