In case you aren’t paying attention, it really is true — sitting is the new smoking.1 Something we used to think is harmless is killing us.
Leading voices from the medical community warn that it’s not enough just to get some exercise each day. It’s really a matter of sitting less. The body wasn’t made to be sedentary.
The effect is more pronounced the older you get. After 40, people tend to start gaining weight easier, and having a harder time losing it. A number of factors are involved, but the root of the problem is decreased metabolism.
After 40, your metabolism drops around 5% each decade.2
The real villain is metabolic syndrome: the combination of elevated blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol and fat around the waist, that collectively increase your risk for chronic disease.
Some like Dr. Mark Hyman are even referring to the group of conditions including metabolic syndrome, obesity, insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes as diabesity.3
Sedentary lifestyles are one of the primary contributing factors, and they’re also the contributing factor you have control over.
Metabolic disease. Sitting disease.
One of the simplest ways to combat metabolic syndrome and the conditions that surround it is being active. And one of the simplest ways to become an active adult, rather than a sedentary one, is to stand and walk more.
Standing at the Office
One of this year’s biggest trends is the standing desk. The other is the treadmill desk, which is a little harder to get used to.
Companies are installing more of these in the workplace, to provide employees to work for extended periods without having to sit down.
And while that may seem very tiring and painful if you haven’t used one before, the surprising thing (at least to me) was how easy they are to get used to.
If you’re concerned about how your office looks, there are a number of standing desks you can purchase that are professionally made and even offer conveniences like motorized lifts. If you’re like me, you might choose instead to modify your existing furniture.
So far, the studies are inconclusive. According to a systematic review of the evidence presented in Preventative Medicine, treadmill desks showed more promise.4
Treadmill desks led to the greatest improvement in physiological outcomes including postprandial glucose, HDL cholesterol, and anthropometrics, while standing desk use was associated with few physiological changes. Standing and treadmill desks both showed mixed results for improving psychological well-being with little impact on work performance.
10,000 Steps in the Morning
Another way to avoid sitting disease takes a little more effort: walking.
And not just a little bit.
A study published in 2011 showed that, in order to lower blood pressure and improve your restorative sleep, you should walk in the morning instead of t lunch or at night.5
“Much to our surprise, 7 a.m. exercise was better in terms of reduced blood pressure throughout the day and greater sleep benefits than exercise at 7 p.m., and there was little blood pressure or sleep benefit when exercise was done at 1 p.m.,” he said.
As you’ll see in the list of reasons below, walking (and exercise in general) in the morning also has the advantage of improving brain function directly. To me, the case is closed!
But how far?
We can thank Dr Yoshiro Hatano, a doctor who practiced in Japan during the 1960s, for the idea of walking 10,000 steps a day. At the time, Dr. Hatano found that people tended to walk 3,500-5,000 per day, but that if they doubled or tripled that to 10,000 steps, their health increased dramatically.
Hard to argue with this:6
“Today, the World Health Organisation (WHO), US Centre for Disease Control, US Surgeon General, American Heart Foundation, US Department of Health & Human Services, and the National Heart Foundation of Australia all recommend individuals take 10,000 steps a day to improve their health and reduce the risk of disease.”
Walking has been studied far more than standing in terms of its direct health benefits. With that, let’s take a look at the numerous health benefits of walking.
These are benefits you can claim, mostly in addition to avoiding sitting disease!
1) Walking reduces risk of heart disease – In one study of people with an average age of 49, inflammatory markers were reduced among those performing light to moderate exercise 2.5 hours per week.7
2) Walking more can help you lose weight: In a study from 2006, overweight middle-aged people who walked briskly for 30 to 60 minutes a day lost 7 pounds in a year and a half, while similar adults who didn’t exercise consistently gained seven pounds in that time.8
3) Walking lowers the risk of premature death among those with chronic kidney disease. For patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), walking “is associated with lower risks of overall mortality … independent of patients’ age, renal function, and comorbidity.”9
4) Walking lowers the risk of stroke. Women who walk 2 hours per week or more had a “30% reduced risk of any type of stroke.“10
5) Walking lowers the risk of hypertension. A half hour of walking three times a week “was enough to have a healthy effect on blood pressure.“11
6) Walking lowers the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Taking short walks after each meal may “lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in older people by helping to reduce the risky spikes in blood sugar that occur after filling the stomach with food.“12
7) Walking lowers the risk of depression. In a study of 2,000 people, walking in nature with other people “may lower your stress levels and reduce your risk of depression.“13
8) Walking can decrease breast cancer risk – However, a little more walking is required. “If you’re sedentary or don’t exercise routinely, boosting your physical activity to at least four hours of walking weekly has a 1 in 10 chance of preventing the most common — and second-most deadly — cancer in women, at least in the near term.“14
9) Brisk walking 150 minutes per week helps people live longer. If you were previously overweight but you lose weight and also take up walking, the difference can be up to 7.2 years longer. Even small increases in activity can make an impact: “Just 75 minutes of brisk walking per week can mean a gain of 1.8 years of life after age 40, compared to people who don’t exercise.“15
10) Anyone who isn’t physically impaired can walk without special equipment. Think about it–technically, you don’t even needshoes! Now, you might consider a pair of Vibram FiveFingers to protect the skin your feet and provide a little more support, sure. But you could just use old fashioned sneakers or running shoes.
11) Walking tightens your butt. I’ve noticed my buns getting tighter recently, now that I have taken up walking 5 or 6 days per week. I used to think that would only happen if I did heavy squats, but I was confusing tone with power. This helps you look better, and gives your muscles the ability to protect your hips. Good news all around!16
12) Walking can reduce body fat. It’s true that more vigorous exercise will help you reduce more body fat, but walking as a supplement to the rest of your exercise program can help you burn off a little more. And if you’re completely sedentary, a daily walking campaign of a half hour or hour daily can get you started down the road to wellness.17
13) Walking lowers triglycerides. Adding walking to your weekly routine to the duration of about 150 minutes per week can contribute to a 20-30% reduction in triglycerides. Since triglycerides are fatty acids that can accumulate in the bloodstream and contribute to stroke or to narrowed arteries, it is wise to keep them under control.18
14) Walking improves glycemic control, especially after meals. This is an important element in managing Type 2 Diabetes, as walking decreases HbA1c.19 And compared to sustained morning or afternoon walking, intermittent postmeal walks improved glycemic control in older adults at risk of glucose intolerance.
15) Walking can help arthritis pain. Counter-intuitive as it may be, “Taking a walk on most days of the week can actually ease arthritis pain and improve other symptoms” according to a CDC study. Those with arthritis should work with their physician, but don’t automatically assume that being in pain means you shouldn’t walk.20
16) Walking lowers blood pressure. Instead of only one sustained walk, it turns out that by breaking your 30 minutes/day into three 10-minute segments, you can see reduced blood pressure the same day and the following.21
17) Walking reduces stress. A recent study shows that walking briskly actually activates nerve cells “that relax the senses.” It’s also helpful to find a quiet place to walk, and on occasion, go walking with a buddy to share stories and enjoy camaraderie.22
18) Walking is good for the brain. The University of British Columbia recently demonstrated that regular exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and thinking skills. This suggests walking (perhaps along with meditation) is one of the life habits you should adopt now to prevent brain deterioration later in life.23
19) Walking boosts immune function. A study at Appalachian State showed the duration of a typical upper respiratory tract infection was 43% shorter among those reporting aerobic exercise five days per week or more. I’m not sure about you, but I really hate being down for a cold. This is practically incentive enough!24
21) Walking gives you time to think. This one is strong in my personal experience, though I admit I don’t do it often enough. When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, my first instinct is to grab some drive-through, come back to the office and power through lunch. But when I do that, I don’t feel nearly as good as when I take a twenty minute power walk around the office park or get in some other sort of exercise on-foot. Actively forcing myself to release the particular issue at hand pays dividends in the second half of the day–and if I can get out among the trees and focus on the beauty of nature, it’s almost like a form of meditation (see above)
20) Walking prevents falls in the elderly. Gentle exercise is shown to improve balance, strength, coordination and flexibility–all of which contribute to fewer falls among our senior population. Unless, of course, you live in frigid conditions and you slip and fall on the ice….25
21) Walking can make meetings go faster. Maybe you’re already doing stand-up meetings every day, but have you introduced your team to the “walking meeting”? In my experience, actively choosing to take your team for a walk can get everyone out of their comfort zone, feeling a bit more spontaneous, and can motivate people to finish business faster so they can go sit down!
22) Walking can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Having said that, adding a brief jog or other higher-impact exercise in the middle of your walk can reduce that risk more. Further, moderate activities like walking can reduce the risk of hip fracture.26
23) Walking lowers Alzheimer’s risk, and can help prevent it from getting worse. “Walking just five miles a week can reduce the chances of the disease getting worse in people who already have Alzheimer’s Disease,” explains neurologist Marvin Zelkowitz, M.D. “And to reduce the chance of developing Alzheimer’s Disease in the future, healthy people should walk at least six miles a week.”27
24) Walking improves sleep. People who exercise were more likely to say they had a good night’s sleep than those who don’t. Further, they were more likely to say the quality of their sleep was very good.28
25) Walking can ease constipation. Just a 30 minute walk may be enough to stimulate the digestive tract. Regular exercise can improve symptoms over time.29
26) Walking can help mom’s have an easier labor. In fact, “The movement of the hips while walking helps to guide the baby into the pelvic opening, and the swaying of the hips encourages the baby into the optimal position for birth,” according to Doula Julia MacNeil, Eastern Canada director for Doulas of North America (DONA) International.30
27) Walking can improve your sex life. Men who exercise 3-5 hours per week have a 30% lower risk of erectile dysfunction. What’s more, “regular exercise can mean 10 more years free of erectile dysfunction for the average man.” Isn’t that worth starting your day with a 30 or 40 minute walk?31
28) Walking can save your gym membership fees. As I’ve written previously, the core of my weekly exercise program is now walking nearly every day. I supplement that with weight lifting with dumbbells, bench and chinup bar I bought for my home, and with a little High Intensity interval training (HIIT) on occasion. Because of cold mornings I also invested in a treadmill.
29) Walking can help with fibromyalgia pain. Short bursts are recommended for those with this condition.32
30) Walking can tone the arms. With some small modifications to your stroll, including the use of gloves or wrist straps, you can tone the arms while you get your daily walk. Two for one! (or is that four for two?)
31) Walking can give you energy. Morning exercise in particular can get you ready for the rest of the day, which is why many successful professionals work out first thing. Increase your BDNF for an edge before going to work in the morning!33
32) Walking outside can boost your Vitamin D. Even in winter, you can time your walks for the warmest part of the day, and when the sun is out you can improve your vitamin D consumption. Just don’t be outside too long without sunscreen.
33) Walking can reverse damage from prolonged sitting. In one study, taking a 5 minute walk each hour was shown to reverse damage done to the arteries by sitting for hours. Note to self: Get up and walk around the office more!34
34) Walking can improve creativity. Stanford University found that creativity was increased by 60% when walking as compared to sitting! Another tick in the “pro” column for the walking meeting, no?35
35) Walking can help with back pain. For those who can tolerate it, walking is a low impact form of exercise that doesn’t aggravate the lower back, and can help with overall strength and mobility.
What else is there?
I’m not sure there’s a whole lot I can add to this laundry list of reasons. The fact is that walking is a fantastic exercise that isn’t physically demanding, but it is time consuming and for that reason, requires a little motivation.
Hopefully these reasons can help with the motivation. But if you’re looking for ways to motivate yourself to walk, About.com shared a handful of ideas:
- Register for a walking event
- Join a Limited Time Walking Program
- Wear a Pedometer
- Find a Walking Buddy
- Keep a Walking Journal
- Join a Walking Club
- New Shoes and Walking Clothes
- Walking Gadgets and Apps
- Do a Virtual Walk Across America
- Choose the Right Time
Modern phones have the ability to track steps. I’m too cheap to buy a FitBit, but now my new iPhone 6 tracks my steps without installing any apps or adding any hardware, so I basically have no excuse. I discovered pretty quickly that my steps were in the 3,000 to 4,000 range most days.
Now, I walk for 30 minutes per morning, and once I get comfortable with my routine I’ll be increasing that to 45.
Won’t you join me?
1 Sitting Is the New Smoking – Inc.
2 Metabolism Slow Down – FitnessRX For Women
3 8 Steps to Reversing Diabesity – Dr. Mark Hyman
4 A systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace. – Preventative Medicine
5 Early morning exercise is best for reducing blood pressure and improving sleep – Appalachian State University
6 More Evidence that Exercise in Middle Age Boots Health – HealthDay
7 Physical activity and inflammatory markers over 10 years follow up in men and women from the Whitehall II cohort study – Circulation
8 Middle Age People can Walk Off Weight – USA Today
9 Association of Walking with Survival and RRT Among Patients with CKD Stages 3–5 – CJASN
10 Why Brisk Walking Reduces Stroke Risk – WebMD
11 A Little Walking Cuts Blood Pressure – WebMD
12 Short Walks May Lower the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Older People – Medical News Today
13 Nature Walks with Others May Keep Depression at Bay – 10,000 Steps Australia
14 Heading for Middle Age? Bring Your Sneakers to Cut Breast Cancer Risk – LA Times
15 Walk More to Live 7.2 Years Longer – Everyday Health
16 Walking Swiftly Tones the Butt – AZ Central
17 Busting the Great Myths of Fat Burning – Dummies.com
19 Impact of Walking on Glycemic Control and Other Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis – PLOS ONE
20 Exercise is Good, Not Bad, for Arthritis – Harvard
21 The Walking Trick That Lowers Blood Pressure – Prevention
22 You Can Walk Away Stress – Daily Mail
23 Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills – Harvard
25 Fall Prevention – Mayo Clinic
26 The 60 Second Bone Builder – Prevention
27 Walking 6 Miles Each Week Could Reduce Chance of Getting Alzheimer’s – Daily Mail
28 Exercise Improves Sleep and Nighttime Breathing Troubles – MedicineNet
29 How to Relieve Constipation – WikiHow
30 The Secret to an Easier Labour – Today’s Parent
31 Men – Move it or Lose It – About.com
32 5 Best Workouts for Chronic Pain – About.com
33 The Best Time to Take a Walk? – Prevention.com
34 Hourly 5-Minute Walks ‘Reverse Arterial Damage Caused By Sitting’ – Medical News Today
35 Stanford Study Finds Walking Improves Creativity – About.com
36 Exercise Walking for Better Back Health – Spine Health