If you had to pick a healthy habit for 2021, here is your best choice
If you’re thinking about how to get back in shape this New Year, why not keep it simple with a proven, easy-to-do, and proven health intervention to improve people’s health and extend their lives?
It works. And before you say “too bad that’s boring” and move on, read a little more first.
First, let’s take advantage of the benefits.
About 30 minutes of walking per day, either all at once or in several sessions has been shown by studies to help people lose weight, improve heart health, increase endurance and improve mental well-being.
An observational study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in the spring found that the more action a person takes, the lower the risk of dying from any cause.
The researchers observed 4,840 participants over the age of 40 over a 10-year follow-up period. They found that taking about 8,000 steps per day was associated with a 51% lower risk of death from any cause compared to 4,000 steps. Taking 12,000 steps per day was associated with a 65% lower risk than taking 4,000 steps per day.
‘He gets everything’
“Walking is systemic,” said Sally Stewart, who has taught exercise science at UBC Okanagan School of Health for more than 30 years.
“He gets everything. He gets all of your physiology and mental well-being too.”
Stewart says people who often live to age 100 haven’t necessarily done so with strenuous exercise as part of their daily lives, but have had a lot of movement, such as walking.
She and others say walking as a primary exercise routine could be especially helpful for people now, as there is continued uncertainty about how to stay fit safely during the pandemic.
Spinning lessons may not happen, neither triathlons nor beach volleyball tournaments, but there should always be a way for almost everyone to walk around and a way not to be boring.
“Walking out can be inherently interesting,” said Jenna Berlyn, a contemporary dancer from Vancouver, who walks most of her trips in the city.
In 2018, she certainly took walking to the extreme to explore her neighborhood. She spent nine hours walking each block of downtown Vancouver, about 43 kilometers, until the pain forced her to stop.
Now 23, Berlyn said if she did it again she would have worn better shoes and more training, but that the adventure ultimately saw her running, while also giving her a stronger connection to her city. And the others.
“For me, it was kind of like my environment was the performance and I was the participant,” she said.
She encourages others to do more fitness walking, but also to use it as a way to live more in the moment, noticing the world around them for the mental health benefits, including increased creativity, which it can provide.
“It’s movement and it’s low impact and it’s easy to do,” she said.
Well, where to begin?
Consider what Dr. Michael Evans, professor in the School of Family Medicine at the University of Toronto, known for his health videos on YouTube, had to say in one of his video essays on walking.
He challenged people to only spend half an hour a day walking, in order to be healthier and live longer, which he said leaves another 23 and a half hours to sit and sleep.