Is Walking Enough Exercise? How Many Steps Is Enough To Reduce Dementia?

Walking has been proven to bring many health benefits. However, can walking alone provide the amount of exercise the body needs?

By Health 1+1 | Guest Post

Walking has been proven to bring many health benefits. However, can walking alone provide the amount of exercise the body needs? What are the different effects of walking 2,000 versus 10,000 steps a day?

According to Harvard Medical School, walking brings five surprising benefits:

First, walking can counteract the effects of weight-promoting genes. In more than 12,000 subjects with weight-promoting genes, Harvard Medical School researchers found that the effects of these genes were reduced by half in subjects who walked briskly for about an hour a day.

Walking can also curb people’s cravings for a variety of sweets, which in turn helps with their weight loss. For instance, a study conducted by the University of Exeter in the UK proved that walking for 15 minutes can curb people’s desire to eat chocolate, and even reduce the amount of chocolate then consumed in stressful situations.

Walking may seem simple, but it can prevent and reduce the pain associated with arthritis, as long as one walks 5 to 6 miles (8 to 9.6 km) per week. This is because walking lubricates the joints and strengthens the surrounding muscles that support them, thus protecting the joints, especially the knee and hip joints, which are the most prone to osteoarthritis.

Walking can also strengthen the immune system. A study of more than 1,000 men and women found that compared to people who exercise once a week or less, people who walk over 20 minutes a day, at least five days a week, have 43% fewer sick days. This means that people who walk a lot are less likely to get sick. And even when they do get sick, their illness duration is shorter and their symptoms are less severe.

Walking also helps reduce the risk of breast cancer in women. A study conducted by the American Cancer Society found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than women who walked three or fewer hours a week. For women with high risk factors for breast cancer, such as being overweight or taking estrogen, walking can also have a protective effect.

Can Walking Replace All Other Exercises?

Now that you know these wonderful health benefits of walking, wouldn’t you want to get up and start walking? Can walking alone provide the amount of exercise your body needs?

Dr. Yu-Lin Tsai, attending physician of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Tai An Hospital, said that walking is a recommendable exercise, because it can bring health benefits and break the sedentary lifestyle of modern people.

However, “if walking is someone’s only exercise, the intensity of exercise is actually not enough,” he said.

This is because a complete exercise should include aerobic exercise, as well as anaerobic exercise (muscle training and stretching), and walking is an aerobic exercise. Dr. Tsai suggested that walking is best combined with some medium to high intensity exercise, such as running, rope skipping, riding a sitting bicycle, and weight training. Alternating between aerobic and anaerobic exercises can help achieve cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength training at the same time.

In addition, high-intensity exercise can make exercising more efficient and achieve the effect of muscle gain and fat burning with a relatively short exercise time.

Nevertheless, for people who don’t exercise habitually, they should not start right off the bat with high-intensity training. Instead, the ideal approach for them is to slowly increase physical activity to gradually develop a habit of exercise.

The American College of Sports Medicine also recommends adults to perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week.

However, there are indeed some people who can have walking be their main form of exercise:

  • People who are usually sedentary and do not exercise
  • Seniors who cannot do strenuous exercise
  • People who have just recovered from a serious illness
  • People with chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes
  • Obese people

For those who are sedentary and/or have poor physical fitness, it is recommended for them to start with short periods exercise, such as three 10-minute walks a day.

The bones of obese people cannot support their body weight, so if they’re engaged in high-intensity exercise, they may develop arthritis. Therefore, obese people can first start with brisk walking, and once they lose some weight, they can carry out moderate and higher intensity exercise.

Let’s Walk to Achieve Stronger Exercise Effects!

To achieve excellent exercise effects, we have to pay attention to the walking intensity, number of steps, and exercise time.

  1. Walking Intensity

Compared with running, swimming, rope skipping, and other high-intensity aerobic exercise, walking is less intensive, so it must be a brisk walk to achieve moderate exercise intensity.

Moderate intensity exercise is the kind of exercise that can make you pant a little. When doing such an exercise, you can talk, but you cannot sing. In comparison, high-intensity exercise can make you breathless, and when exercising, even talking will become a bit difficult.

The quantification of “brisk walking” is 3 mph, or at least 100 steps per minute, in order to achieve moderate exercise intensity.

  1. Number of Steps

In Japan, there is a well-known “Nakanojo Study”, which researches the number of daily walking steps that can protect against certain diseases. According to the study:

  • 2,000 steps can prevent the condition of being bedridden;
  • 4,000 steps can prevent depression;
  • 5,000 steps can prevent dementia, heart diseases, and brain strokes;
  • 7,000 steps can reduce the risk of cancer, arteriosclerosis, osteoporosis, and bone fractures;
  • 7,500 steps can prevent sarcopenia and hypokinesia;
  • 8,000 steps can prevent hypertension, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome for those over 75 years old;
  • 9,000 steps can reduce hypertension and hyperglycemia;
  • 10,000 steps can prevent metabolic syndrome for people under the age of 75;
  • 12,000 steps can prevent obesity.

Usually, the more steps people take, the better it is for their health. However, according to Dr. Tsai, the elderly are an exception.

When taking more than 8,000 steps, there is usually no significant improvement in the overall health or mortality of the elderly. “The 6,000 to 8,000 step range is enough for seniors” in order to reduce mortality and promote good health while not getting too tired, he said.

Healthy adults can challenge themselves by taking more steps. A study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that healthy adults can walk 4,000 to 18,000 steps a day, and that 10,000 steps a day is a reasonable goal for healthy adults.

  1. Duration of A Brisk Walk

Each brisk walk should be 30 to 60 minutes, with additional time for warm-up and wind-down exercises.

The Mayo Clinic recommends walking slowly for 5 to 10 minutes to warm up for the brisk walk. At the end of the walk, you should also walk slowly for 5 to 10 minutes to cool down the body. Finally, stretch your limbs gently.

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