Why Walking Is The Best Medicine

Four in 10 people in middle age are chronically inactive, yet it only takes 10 minutes a day to reverse the damage. Here BODYISM founder James Duigan explains why walking more is one of the most powerful steps you can take for your health and happiness

In many ways the world is advancing. Scientific improvements in automation mean we can do things we’d never dreamed of 70 years ago. But in that same time, our health and fitness has been in alarming decline.

New research from Public Health England (PHE) has found we’re 20% less active today than we were in the 1960s and 41% of people in middle age don’t manage one brisk 10 minute walk per month. And yet, tragically, one in six deaths can be linked back to inactivity.

Your boots were made for walking

“This is such a tragic waste of life and yet so easily preventable,” says James Duigan, reacting to the new study. “It shows how confused people are about exercise.”

“The Greek physician Hippocrates [c. 460 – c. 370 BC] first said, ‘Walking is the best medicine,’ but somehow over the past couple thousand years that message has been forgotten.

“People have been told HIIT [high-intensity interval training] is the only way to burn fat. That there’s no gain without pain. When you’re told you have to exercise 30 minutes a day, every day, working out can seem daunting. So some people simply never get started.”

So where should you start? “Start by walking,” says James. “Walk around the block. Walk to the shops. Walk part of your commute. Walk on your lunch break. Take walking meetings at work. Walk whenever the sun is shining and walk as long and as far as you can.”

Light on your feet

The benefits from simply walking more often are considerable. The research from PHE found that doing just one brisk 10 minute walk per day can reduce risk of early death by 15%.

And a 2015 study from Oregon State University found that older adults who regularly perform light-intensity exercise are 18% healthier than peers who are less active.

People who were regularly active had a lower body mass index (BMI), smaller waist circumference, better insulin rates helping reduce the storage of fat, and were less likely to have chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

The “light-intensity exercise” mentioned included such everyday fixes as taking the stairs instead of the escalator, going to the shops instead of buying online and walking to a restaurant rather than using the drive-thru window.

All of these little steps can add up to the total target of doing 30 minutes activity per day.

Walk off your worries

Ultimately the message returns to what Hippocrates discovered millennia ago: walk for your health.

“Don’t over complicate it or over think it,” says James. “Walk every day for a week and you’ll immediately start to feel better than you did last week. Walk every day for a month and I guarantee you’ll feel fitter and healthier than most people you know.

“Walk slowly and get used to how it feels. Walk calmly and clear your mind of clutter. Walk briskly and feel the power in your muscles.”

“And when you’re ready to step it up, you can start to incorporate stretches, bodyweight moves and circuits to improve your balance, strength and cardio that’ll help you not only survive long into old age, but thrive.”

Movement, one of the four pillars of health, is covered in greater detail in James Duigan’s new book, Blueprint for Health. Find out more here.

“After my wife Chrissy gave birth, the first thing she did was walk. She didn’t need to start with yoga or pilates or weights – just walking and getting in touch with her body was exactly what she needed. She took her time and she’s glad she did because when weight comes off slowly and steadily, it stays off for longer.” James Duigan

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