The simple fact of walking about thirty minutes a day is associated with a 20% reduction in the risk of dying prematurely.
Even if the human species is distinguished from other animals by its intelligence, we should not forget that our body, with its 640 muscles and 206 bones (i.e. half of our body mass), is also perfectly adapted to the intense physical effort. During evolution, it is estimated that humans routinely walked up to 20 km per day (20,000+ steps) to obtain enough caloric food to support brain function and evolution. We were therefore not born only to think and innovate, but also, and perhaps above all, to move.
Physical inactivity, a factor in the occurrence of cardiovascular accidents, diabetes and cancer
Barely a century ago, every aspect of everyday life required physical effort, both at work and at home. Today, technological advances mean that most of us are much less active than before: we drive to work, take the elevator to the office, work all day in front of a computer and devote our evenings to passive leisure in front of a screen (television, telephone, computer). On average, it is estimated that an adult European devotes almost 10 hours of his waking period each day to sedentary activities, devoid of any physical exertion!
This extreme sedentary lifestyle is very bad for your health: for example, several studies have shown that people who watch television for more than 4 hours a day have an increased risk of being affected by cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes or even certain types of cancer. Conversely, physical exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke, sudden death), type 2 diabetes, at least 13 different types of cancer and cognitive decline, objective absolutely impossible to achieve with currently available drugs.
Walking 30 min/day reduces the risk of health problems by 20%
Too often, sedentary people are discouraged by the idea of being more physically active because they believe it necessarily involves playing demanding sports. Our society values elite or extreme sports enormously, which can give the impression that exercising is synonymous with spectacular sports performance or breaking records.
This is totally untrue, as research over the past few years has clearly shown that the benefits of physical activity can be seen at relatively low levels of exercise. For example, a large study of half a million men and women observed that as little as 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day (walking for example) is enough to reduce the risk of of premature death.
The more we walk, the healthier we are
Obviously, these benefits will be even greater if the duration of the exercise is increased, with a maximum protection of approximately 35% for 90 minutes of walking per day. This is true for both young and old: for example, a study in Hawaii showed that people aged 65 and over who walked 3.2 km or more per day, or about 5,000 steps, had a risk of premature mortality twice lower than sedentary people.
Walking faster also seems to provide increased benefits: for example, a recent study showed that people who walk fast (enough to be slightly out of breath, around 7 km/h) have a 25% lower risk of premature death, compared to to those who walk very slowly.
It is therefore not necessary to train to exhaustion or run a marathon to enjoy the health benefits of physical activity. The simple fact of integrating 30 minutes of walking into the daily routine, whether in a single session or in several segments, is more than enough to considerably reduce the risk of premature death and significantly improve the quality of life.
Wen CP et al. Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet 2011; 378: 1244-1253.
Hakim AA et al. Effects of walking on mortality among nonsmoking retired men. N Engl J Med. 1998; 338: 94-99.
Stamatakis E et al. Self-rated walking pace and all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality: individual participant pooled analysis of 50,225 walkers from 11 population British cohorts. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018; 52:761.