Walk to Live a Longer Life

Patient Expert

_A new research study reveals a strong connection between all types of exercise (even simple walking) and longevity. Here's some inspiration for finding the time (and willpower) for the simplest path to a longer life: going for a walk. _

The results of a large Harvard research study released in June provide some interesting data around exercise and its connection to premature death. The study involved 661,000 mostly middle-aged adults – the demographic many of us belong to.

You can read the abstract (or the entire study) in the online JAMA Internal Medicine journal. But here's the bottom line: people who exercise – even a little bit – are less likely to die prematurely than people who don't.

What's exercise's specific benefit?

If you exercise –

  • Less than 150 minutes a week (but still do some exercise), your risk of premature death is reduced by 20 percent;
  • At least 150 minutes up to 450 minutes a week, your risk is reduced by 31 percent;
  • 450 minutes a week or more, your risk is reduced by 39 percent.

Let's look at this a little bit differently, so you can compare these exercise routines to one another.

  • If you knock off 150 minutes a week of exercise (about 21 minutes a day), you're 55 percent less likely to die early than those who exercise only a little.
  • If you triple that amount of exercise to 450 minutes a week (about 65 minutes a day), you're 25 percent less likely to die prematurely than those putting in 150 minutes; and 95 percent less likely to die early than those who exercise just a little bit.

Good news! Simple walking is exercise.

Thankfully, the study classifies walking as exercise. So don't be scared off by the "E" word, OK? The biggest challenge in going for a walk is finding the time; followed by a sense of boredom or anxiety as you walk, as your mind focuses on all the other "critical" things you could/should be doing.

Here's some important advice: live in the moment. Clear your mind, and appreciate where you are: the sky, the trees, your faithful dog beside you. Here are some "inspirations" from my own walks to get you going –

Walking is the perfect time to be alone with your thoughts. Argue with yourself; compliment yourself. Daydream, have a mental conversation, or simply envision your perfect meal. It's OK; no one's looking!

Do you have a dog? S/he'll love accompanying you wherever you walk – walking's just as critical for dogs as it is for humans. Bonus: take a walk in the woods. Your dog will find LOTS of fascinating things to sniff.

Look at the sky. There's nothing so calming, inspiring, and peace-giving as a sky full of clouds. Nowhere is nature so consistently majestic than right over your head.

Have you ever noticed how sunset and sunrise suffuse the air with gold and pink, the sky with orange and red and midnight blue? Stop; look; drink in the colors.

Take the road less traveled; your mind loves discovering new places. I often follow old dirt roads to see where they lead. This one led past a cranberry bog, a bridge over a stream, and a blueberry patch.

Time your walk so you catch the sunset. Not only will you be able to predict the next day's weather – "red sky at night, sailor's delight" – you'll be treated to a splendid slideshow of color.

Walk no matter the weather (except in extreme heat). Embrace winter's cold; it's the other side of hot and humid summer. Walk in the rain; feel it bathing your hands. Enjoy the wind at your back.

Be the first to leave your footprints. There's something exciting about walking a path no one's walked before you – even if it's only a stretch of sand newly revealed by the receding tide.

Finally, do something crazy every now and then. I like to visit the beach in February – and go barefoot. The temperature may be 20°F; there may be ice riming the wrack line. But wiggling my toes in the sand brings back memories of warm summer days – and happy anticipation of the spring to come.

Walk to live longer. Walk for your health. Walk to feed your spirit. Just… walk.

See more helpful articles:

A Guide to Survivorship: Life After Treatment

Top 10 Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Risks and Benefits: Understanding the Statistics That Affect You

Stay Healthy – Keep Moving!

Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.


Reynolds, Gretchen. "The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life." April 15, 2015. Accessed July 18, 2015. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/15/the-right-dose-of-exercise-for-a-longer-life.