Walking your way to better health, from the Harvard Men's Health Watch

Hundreds of studies show that regular exercise is good for health. But if you're not a runner or biker, or are only interested in—or capable of—less strenuous forms of exercise, can you still expect a health boost? You can, indeed, walk your way to better health, reports the August 2009 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.

A recent analysis proves that walking doesn't get the respect it deserves. Two scientists sifted through 4,295 articles published on walking between 1970 and 2007. Of these, 18 observational studies met their high standards for quality. Each of the studies collected information about the participants' walking habits and cardiovascular risk factors such as age, smoking, and alcohol use. The participants were followed for an average of 11.3 years. During this time, their cardiovascular events (angina, heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, bypass surgery, and stroke) and deaths were recorded.

When the scientists compiled the results from the 18 studies, they found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% and cut the risk of dying during the study period by 32%. Benefits were equal in men and women. Protection was evident even at distances of just 5.5 miles walked per week and at a pace as casual as about 2 miles per hour. The greatest benefits went to people who walked longer distances, walked at a faster pace, or both.

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