A brisk walk each day for a minimum of 20 minutes could lead to considerable health benefits, according to a new study that suggests the sedentary lifestyle is responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity.
The good news is that even a modest amount of exercise could make a difference as long as it's regularly performed, say the researchers, whose study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
For an average of 12 years, the team measured height, weight and waist circumference against self-reported physical activity levels of 334,161 European men and women.
The benefits of adding a daily, 20-minute walk -- which burns between 90 and 110 calories -- were observed predominantly in subjects of normal weight, for they began to dwindle as subjects' body mass index (BMI) increased.
Just under a quarter, or 22.7 per cent, of subjects fit the research team's definition of inactive, staking no claims to recreational activity and holding a sedentary job.
For these individuals, the daily 20-minute walk would bump them one notch higher on the activity ladder, from inactive to moderately inactive.
According to the researchers this notch could be significant, reducing their chance of premature death by between 16 and 30 per cent.
An analysis of recent data on 9.2 million European deaths indicates that obesity is the culprit for 337,000 of them, yet 676,000 -- double that figure -- could be caused by lack of physical activity.
"This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive," says lead author Professor Ulf Ekelund from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.
Dr. Ekelund does not, however, prescribe a moderately inactive lifestyle as a legitimate and reasonable goal.
"Although we found that just 20 minutes would make a difference, we should really be looking to do more than this -- physical activity has many proven health benefits and should be an important part of our daily life."
Hailing from the University of Cambridge, the research team sourced their data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study.
If you're prone to being obese, spending just one hour going for a brisk walk may reduce your genetic influence by half. That's the finding from a Harvard School of Public Health Study that was recently presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions. "In our study, a brisk one-hour daily walk reduced the genetic influence towards obesity, measured by differences in BMI by half," study researcher Qibin Qi, Ph.D. said in a statement. "On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle marked by watching television four hours a day increased the genetic influence by 50 percent." Not only is it helpful to get moving from behind your desk -- it might be harmful to stay slumped over your computer instead.
Research consistently shows that a simple walking plan can help reduce LDL cholesterol -- the damaging kind, associated with heart disease -- and increase HDL cholesterol, which is associated with heart health. One study in middle aged men found that walking enough to burn 300 calories per day was associated with a significant reduction in the total cholesterol/HDL ratio, which is an indication of better cardiovascular function. The walking plan was also effective in lowering damaging triglycerides.
Even if you aren't genetically predisposed to obesity, you can still benefit from the weight regulating properties of walking. Walking at least 10,000 steps a day was associated with lower body fat percentage and lower overall weight, according to a recent Canadian study of women, ages 50 to 70 years. In the study of 57 women, those who walked more than 10,000 steps were the only group to have a normal BMI of an average 25. Those who walked fewer than 7,500 steps and those who walked between 7,500 and 10,000 steps were, on average, overweight. But while walking may have an effect on overall body mas, if it's muscle tone, balance or agility you're after, the study found that even 10,000 steps wasn't sufficient.
People with fatigue who also lead sedentary lifestyles reported getting a 20 percent energy boost and a 65 percent reduction in fatigue after following a low-intensity exercise program that involved walking, according to a 2008 University of Georgia study. And more, recently, walking was shown to help mitigate the profound fatigue felt by those who were recovering from serious illness, reported HuffPost's Amanda L. Chan: The new research shows that an activity as simple as walking could help to lessen this fatigue. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons included 102 people who had just had surgery done for their pancreatic or periampullary cancers. Eighty-five percent of them reported having fatigue at a moderate to severe level.
The benefits of walking extend beyond the physical. Just 30 minutes of strolling a day has been associated with mood improvement among depressed patients. In fact, thanks to the endorphins released during exercise, the study -- published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine -- revealed that walking worked faster than antidepressants.