The elusive spring that puts forth water to make whoever imbibes young again has been long sought after. Indeed, the Fountain of Youth has been searched for by myriad cultures and has been written about in countless stories.
This search for good health and long life has since led to a vast array of research, studies, and supposed remedies along the way.
The term longevity is seeing a rise in usage and searches, as people become more interested in how to improve not only health but lifespan. After all the effort put into finding a miraculous “cure” for unhealthy aging, it turns out one thing most people do every day may be the most beneficial exercise to increase longevity – walking.
Merriam-Webster defines longevity as “a long duration of individual life.” Achieving longevity involves pushing back against the process of ongoing damage to our cells from birth.
This ongoing damage accumulates as we age and can be instigated or expedited by genetics, free radical production (often caused by lifestyle choices or other environmental factors), and errors in cell reproduction.
The damage, often going unnoticed, can lead to chronic diseases. These often invisible issues lead to a hurried process of aging. Enough bad news – positively altering behaviors immediately can prevent or help reverse this damage.
One simple exercise has been shown to support the goal of increased longevity. Fortunately, it can be done virtually anywhere and anytime.
The Role Walking Plays in Longevity
A multitude of studies has started to provide significant data supporting the value of walking for overall health and longevity.
One hour of walking per week is associated with greater longevity in people aged 85 years and above. Further, as individuals age, they tend to be more sedentary and not meet exercise recommendations – compounding the issue of decreased longevity.
Walking presents an opportunity to avoid the common pitfall of aging – decreased activity. With an increase in a simple activities like walking regularly, extended life spans are noted.
Walking engages many large muscle groups in the body. It increases cardiovascular health and endurance by keeping your heart rate at 60% – 70% of maximum. Exercise, including walking, has the power to release various biological factors that improve brain function and the functions that support the brain.
The study referenced earlier indicates that walking for ten minutes a day (about an hour or so per week) will increase longevity. As the only animal on the planet that primarily gets around on two feet – we should certainly be able to accomplish this standard.
How to Get Moving and Actually Enjoy It
While a nice walk on the beach or along a lazy river can certainly be enjoyable, it can be a tough feat to embark alone with your thoughts each day. Some simple tips could help get you out and reaching toward your goals of extended longevity.
Phone a Friend
Walking with a partner or group could potentially increase the benefits of walking we have already discussed. It has been shown to result in a happier disposition and reduce depression.
Finding a “walking buddy” can also increase your participation by providing an element of accountability. No one wants their friend to be alone on those walks toward longevity!
Change It Up
Find a new place to walk or a new way to walk the same route you typically take. Simply reversing your usual course can result in some new sights and observations you might not have noticed before.
You could also try a practice called earthing. Earthing, also called grounding, utilizes the understanding that bodily contact with our planet’s natural electric charge stabilizes human physiology in many ways, including reducing inflammation, stress reduction, pain relief, improved sleep, and more. Simply walking barefoot can encourage the benefits of earthing.
Make It Everyday Life
Walking does not have to be some grand task on our daily “to-do” lists. Sitting during a virtual presentation while you work from home? Walk and listen instead. Having a chat on the couch after dinner? Take that conversation outside on a walk together.
It is important that we can incorporate such a simple lifestyle change into our daily lives. It is also valuable to understand that miles on end are not the requirement – studies show that 10 minutes per day can make a positive impact on those who are generally sedentary.
That Pesky 10,000 Steps Rule
While we have discussed the simplicity of walking, some continue to point to that seemingly antique idea that 10,000 steps in a day is the “magic number” for walking to provide health benefits.
If inspected closely, you’d learn that the widely considered rule of thumb of 10,000 steps is rooted in an ad campaign for a Japanese pedometer – not any kind of scientific research.
A large study done at Harvard indicated that around 4,400 steps per day had a significant impact on women when compared with those who were less active. In fact, the same study showed that the reduction in mortality rates was impacted similarly up to 7,500 steps but tapered off after that.
Thus, we can reasonably conclude that walking closer to two miles would have the same health benefits as walking at the same pace for five miles. While longer walks can certainly have their benefits, it is valuable to understand that you do not need to reach such lofty distances to improve longevity.
Wrapping It Up
Walking is associated with increased longevity. In those over 85 or who have been primarily sedentary, a simple 10-minute walk can have an impact. Walking just under two miles can decrease mortality rates and walking quickly can have an impact on almost every cause of death aside from cancer.
Getting out to walk, whether it is ten minutes leisurely or ten miles briskly, will have a positive impact on your health span. Find a friend, get creative, and get moving!
Kim Y, Lee E. The association between elderly people’s sedentary behaviors and their health-related quality of life: focusing on comparing the young-old and the old-old. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2019;17:131.