Walking Exactly This Much a Week Adds Years to Your Life, Study Says

Taking a brisk walk for at least this much time can help ward off early death.

To some, walking may not seem as efficient of an exercise as a hard sweat session at the gym or in a fitness class. But mounting research is showing that hitting the pavement can have excellent benefits for your health. Now, a new study has found that walking for a certain amount of time each week adds years to your life by reducing numerous health risks. Read on to see exactly how long you should be striving to make strides.

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Walking briskly for 2.5 hours each week lowers the risk of early death.

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Going for your morning walk may not be quite the same as training for a marathon, but it's still giving you a health boost. A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine tracked 380,055 people with an average age of 56 over the course of 11 years to study the relationship between physical activity and lack of sleep. Participants then had their activity levels designated as high, medium, low, or none, while their sleep patterns were categorized as healthy, intermediate, or poor.

Follow up with participants found that those who got in at least 600 metabolic equivalent minutes (MET) of physical activity a week —which is equivalent to 2.5 hours of brisk walking or 75 minutes of strenuous running—"eliminated most of the deleterious associations of poor sleep" and early death. Conversely, those who didn't get in their exercise and slept poorly were 57 percent more likely to die an early death than those who managed to stay active.

The likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer or heart disease was also decreased by walking.

A young woman walking in the park while holding a water bottle.
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The researchers also found that poor sleep and lack of exercise could lead to other bad health outcomes. By the end of the study, 15,503 participants had died, including 4,095 who succumbed to cardiovascular diseases, 9,064 of cancer, 1,932 of coronary heart disease, 359 from hemorrhagic stroke, 450 from ischemic stroke, and 1,595 from lung cancer. The study's authors excluded participants who died of COVID-19 from the results.

These results showed that those who got poor sleep and who did only low levels of exercise were 67 percent more likely to develop heart disease. The same group was also 45 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than those in the higher exercise group.

RELATED: If You Notice This When You're Walking, Your Heart May Be in Trouble.

The study authors concluded that exercise and sleep together could help improve your health.

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The research team also noted that certain differences in lifestyle also affected the likelihood of early death, including eating a vegetarian diet, getting plenty of sleep, being less sedentary, not being overweight, not being socioeconomically disadvantaged, and not holding a job that required shift work. And while they pointed out that further research was needed on the topic to cement any links between exercise, sleep, and early death, they ultimately concluded that physical activity and sleep are keys to improving health.

Other recent studies have found links between walking and brain health benefits.

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Other recent studies have shown that walking enough each week can do even more to help jog your health. In one, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) used 70 participants between the ages of 55 and 80 who had been diagnosed with memory loss and split them randomly into two groups. Researchers then instructed one set of participants to complete stretching exercises three to five times each week for 30 to 40 minutes, while the other group was instructed to take a brisk walk three to five times weekly for the same duration of time.

After a year, MRIs showed that those who were in the group prescribed aerobic exercise had increased blood flow to their brains and that the blood vessels in their necks were less stiff. Participants in the stretching group did not display the same results. While there wasn't enough evidence to draw a concrete link between walking and dementia, the researchers concluded that the results warranted more study on the relationship, Eating Well reported.

"There is still a lot we don't know about the effects of exercise on cognitive decline later in life," C. Munro Cullum, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UTSW and co-senior author of the study, said in a statement. "MCI [mild cognitive impairment] and dementia are likely to be influenced by a complex interplay of many factors, and we think that, at least for some people, exercise is one of those factors."

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Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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