According to a study published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine, walking had the potential to significantly improve the public health. Regular walking, even if lower than the recommended amount, is associated with lower mortality compared to inactivity.

Adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, the public health guidelines recommend. However, only half of U.S. adults meet this recommendation (42% ages 65-74 years; 28% of age’s ≥75 years) with even fewer older adults meeting these criteria.

The most common type of physical activity is walking. This lowers the risk of diabetes, heart disease, colon and breast cancers. Moderate-vigorous physical activity is linked to reduced mortality rates, while in few studies walking as a specific activity showed the association.

In the study led by Alpa Patel, about 140,000 participants in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort were assessed. Among the patients, only 6-7% in the study reported no moderate-vigorous intensity physical activity at baseline while 95% reported some walking. Among all the walkers, about 50% reported walking as the only form of moderate-vigorous physical activity.

The risk factors for obesity, smoking, and chronic conditions were considered and corrected for to achieve more reliable outcomes. The researchers found that minimum walking (< 2hours per week) was associated with lower all-cause mortality compared to no activity. There were about 20% reduced mortality risks among those who meet the minimum walking criteria (2.5-5 hours/week). Similar outcomes were obtained in those who exceeded the walking recommendation.

There was nearly a 35% lower risk associated with respiratory disease mortality through walking when the outcomes were compared between the least active group and those walking at least 6 hours/week. Walking reduced risk of mortality due to cardiovascular disease by 20% and about 9% lower risk of cancer mortality was determined.

"Walking has been described as the 'perfect exercise' because it is simple, free, and convenient, doesn't require any specialized equipment or training, and can be done at any age," said Dr. Patel. "With the near doubling of adults aged 65 and older expected by 2030, clinicians should encourage patients to walk even if less than the recommended amount, especially as they age, for health and longevity."