Walking is the most natural human activity and is a sustained aerobic exercise common to everyone except for the seriously disabled or very frail. No special skills or equipment are needed, and having a low ground impact, it is inherently safe. Unlike many other modes of exercise, there is little decline in ability with age if the habit is sustained.
A study of modern hunter gathers reported average daily walking distances of 12.2 km, with 65 year olds still averaging 10.8 km/day in foraging activity (Pontzer et al., 2015). It is a year-round, repeatable activity and the main option for increasing physical activity in sedentary populations (Morris and Hardman, 1997).
Evidence for the health benefits of walking is robust and well documented. Wide-ranging health effects in walking groups (compared to age-matched sedentary controls) include:
- decreased blood pressure
- decreased resting heart rate
- decreased body fat and cholesterol
- increased aerobic fitness
- increased mental wellbeing
- increased physical function
(Hanson and Jones, 2015)
Moreover, there were no reported adverse side effects in the 42 studies (1843 participants) included in the analysis.
Walking is man's best medicine. (Hypocrates)
Other long-term research shows a 13% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk with walking 5-10 km/week compared to those walking less (Sesso et al., 2000) confirming the health benefits of regular walking.
Regular and sustained walking not only builds health but protects it. It is the basic form of exercise for humans and, with gradual and regular exposure, forms the cornerstone of human health that can be maintained throughout the lifespan.
Dr. Mick Wilkinson, PhD, MSc, BA (Hons)
Northumbria University, Newcastle, England
Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science & Department Ethics Lead
- Hanson S, et al. Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2015; 49: 710–715.
- Morris JN and Hardman AE. Walking to Health. Sports Med. 1997; 23: 306-332.
- Pontzer H, et al. Energy Expenditure and Activity Among Hadza Hunter-Gatherers. Am J Human Biol. 2015; 27:628–637.
- Sesso HD, Paffenbarger RS Jr, Lee IM. Physical activity and coronary heart disease in men: The Harvard Alumni Health Study. Circulation. 2000; 102:975–80.